Why Can't I Sleep? 6 Surprising Factors

When we have sleep issues, we often blame stress or caffeine. But Johns Hopkins experts share links between sleep issues and other lesser-known factors.

A Daytime Tiff

Research shows that women who have positive interactions with their bed partner during the day will sleep better at night. On the flip side, men who sleep better will have happier dealings with their spouse the next day. And having a sleep buddy in general can improve feelings of security and thereby encourage sleep, provided neither of you is a restless sleeper or snorer. (These can be signs of a serious health condition; bring these sleep issues to a health care provider’s attention.)


Your Bed Clothes

“Everyone should have some kind of sleep uniform,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Rachel E. Salas, M.D., “even if it’s sleeping in the nude.” Changing into sleepwear (or nothing) helps cue your brain that it’s time to sleep. If you tend to be warm at night, opt for cotton or wicking fabrics, not wool or fleece. If you’re more often chilly, consider silk or flannel. Also, change your socks before bed. Perspiration gets trapped in socks during the day, which can lead to cold toes and sleep issues during the night.


A Spicy Dinner

“Eating spicy foods close to bedtime can cause acid reflux or heartburn, which can impact your sleep,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Charlene E. Gamaldo, M.D. Such foods can also worsen symptoms of sleep apnea: If stomach acid backs up through the esophagus, it can irritate the airway, making it collapse, which contributes to snoring. If you have frequent heartburn, getting it under control can help resolve sleep issues.


Fido or Fluffy

Yes, you love your pets, but you just might enjoy them more during the day if they don’t disturb your sleep. Pets track allergens into the bedroom, says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Charlene E. Gamaldo, M.D. They can have nightmares or night terrors that cause them to thrash around and make noise. If you can’t bear to shut out pets entirely, Gamaldo recommends crating them and keeping them off the covers, particularly if you have a diagnosed sleep disorder or pet allergy.


A Hot Shower

Taking a steamy shower or bath before bed will increase your body’s core temperature, says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Charlene E. Gamaldo, M.D. Your temperature naturally drops during the night, and raising it right before bed means it will take even longer for your body to adjust as you sleep. If you’re also exercising at night (another activity that boosts alertness in many people) and then showering, you’re making sleep doubly difficult for yourself.



Sleep experts note that people who smoke wake up more often during the night And the sleep smokers do get is not as high-quality as it is in nonsmokers. Smokers have been shown to be four times as likely as nonsmokers to report sleep that’s not refreshing. Nicotine is a stimulant, and smoking — especially at night — is a barrier to sleep. That said, if you choose to quit smoking, don’t expect your sleep issues to improve until after the initial withdrawal period. But quitting is worth it in the long run — for sleep and so many other health benefits.

Request an Appointment

Find a Doctor
Find a Doctor