3 Reasons Your Brain Won’t Let You Sleep Tonight

Falling Asleep Can Be Tough

Not getting enough sleep can be blamed on many things – some avoidable and some unavoidable. Avoidable things include intense socialising, watching The Lord Of The Rings till sunrise, eating high-sugar snacks and worrying about menial things like whether you’ve put a black sock into wash with your crisp white shirts. The unavoidable things include waking to check on a crying baby, serious life worries, suffering from insomnia and intense feelings of pain. This list could go on and on and on. 

In this article, we’ll explore the main issues that keep people up at night and why it’s so important to address them, before they have an effect on your brain and become detrimental to your health and wellbeing. We’ll also provide a few techniques to help you to increase the amount of sleep you’re getting each night. 

1. Are You Catastrophising? 

Problem: Do you go to bed panicking about that hideous meeting tomorrow? Do you worry about not falling asleep which in turn keeps you awake? And fear your tiredness will make you useless tomorrow? If so, then you are catastrophising. This Book Will Make You Sleep by Dr Jessamy Hibberd, describes catastrophising as when someone, “attribute(s) extreme consequences to not falling asleep, overestimating the probability of disaster and understanding your ability to cope, e.g. ‘Everyone thinks I’m rubbish at my job because I’m always tired.”

Potential Solution: A science-backed way to stop catastrophising and to start sleeping is to write a to-do list in bed NOT a journal of your day. According to the study, The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists by Scullin MK et al., writing a journal of your day can be detrimental to your sleep. They tested 57 healthy adults aged 18 to 30 and asked half to complete a 5-minute journal listing what they’d completed during the day and the other half to write a to-do list for tomorrow. And their findings were astounding:

“Participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep significantly faster than those in the completed-list condition. The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep, whereas the opposite trend was observed when participants wrote about completed activities.” They concluded that “to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 minutes at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities.” Time to invest in a new notepad perhaps?

2. Boozing Too Much?

Problem: Alcohol is often associated with helping people drift off to sleep. If you think of certain family members when you were growing up, just an hour into a whisky sipping session they’d be nodding off in their comfy chair until fast asleep. Usually snoring away within minutes. However, although asleep, the quality of sleep they were experiencing was in fact no good. Why? Well, according to Professor of Psychophysiology at Loughborough University, Jim Horne, alcohol and sleep are a cocktail worth avoiding: Depending upon how much is consumed, the following can happen:

  1. “It increases the relaxation in the throat muscles. 
  2. It causes the brain’s breathing centre to be less responsive to low blood oxygen levels. 
  3. It slows up the emergency reaction to wake up.”

Not only is the brain unable to react in certain alcohol-related conditions, but it also means your sleep isn’t of great quality. Alcohol may send you to sleep faster but research has shown that it reduces rapid eye movement (REM), which occurs every 90 minutes during sleep and is vital for the health of the brain and body. Read all about REM and the 90 minute sleep cycle here.

Nick Littlehales, author of bestseller Sleep describes how continuous disrupted sleep, “can lead to a multitude of problems ranging across suppressed immunity, greater risks of cancer, an increased risk of coronary heart disease and even metabolic disorders such as diabetes II.”

Potential solution: This is going to sound patronising but… Stop drinking. Or maybe just limit alcohol intake to a couple of drinks once a week or every fortnight. Even then, one boozy night may disrupt your entire sleeping pattern. Try going T-total for 3 weeks and see if your sleeping habits improve.

3. Exercise

Problem: This Book Will Make You Sleep by Jessamy Hibberd says: “We can pretty much guarantee that what you’re doing (or not doing) during the day will be contributing to your sleeping problems. There are lots of things you can either adapt or sacrifice in your daily life that will encourage sound slumber.” Food and exercise can play a big part in our sleeping patterns and can help or hinder our ability to drift off.

Need to sleep better? Exercise during the day seems like a logical way to tire your brain and body out and encourages a deep night’s sleep – and science agrees. Some studies have shown that, “aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia” and other studies show this for younger folk too. Sleep is also hugely important for warding off false hunger too. Science has proven that a lack of sleep can make you eat more and feel hungrier by increasing the activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli.

Potential solution: Create an exercise plan (not before you go to sleep remember!) and make it doable. If you’re new to exercise or not a fan of it, then start with small movements, like 10 minutes in the living room stretching and balancing. Using your body weight as a workout tool is highly underrated. Walk briskly round the block or cycle. Definitely cycle. 

As more and more scientific research is becoming available, it’s proving that the brain is pretty much in control of our bodies and affected by most external factors. So when you’re trying hard to catch some ZZZs, think about the potential strains you may have put on your brain and body during the day, which could be stopping you from entering the land of nod. And start with these 3 easy(ish) methods to improve your sleep: 

– Quit the booze if you can

 – Exercise if your body allows it 

– Work on ways to control worry

We hope you stayed awake during this article…

Brought to you by Peak, makers of the Peak – Brain Training and Peak Sleep – Sleep Better apps. 

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Sources Cited:



Sleepfairing by Jim Horne

This Book Will Make You Sleep by Jessamy Hibberd

Sleep by Nick Littlehales

Maisie Bygraves

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