Tired but can’t sleep? Find out how to get a good nights sleep

Tired but can't sleep?

Tired but can’t sleep? It’s something we hear a lot of people say these days. Most of the time, we find that people are simply not getting enough sleep. We are told that 8 hours sleep is all that is needed to feel refreshed and ready for the day. Some days you can wake after 8, 9 or even 10 hours sleep feeling like you’ve not slept at all. There can be many reasons for this, but here we will cover some key areas that may help you feel slightly less tired.

One thing we come across again and again is this…

… Sleep isn’t interesting.

We spend a third of our day, every day sleeping, yet still it is something we do not spare any thought beyond, “I really must go to bed” or just falling a sleep on the sofa. We are lucky that our bodies are resourceful and will make the most of any situation, but perhaps we should shift our focus into what makes a good nights sleep by making a few lifestyle or bedroom changes.

Most of us don’t understand sleep and why should we? It’s something that our body tells us it needs and we try and keep up.

I’m tired but can’t sleep? Where can I start?

If you think you’re getting the right amount of sleep and don’t suffer with sleep apnea, then you need to keep reading.

Ever wonder why sometimes you only get 5 hours of sleep but go through the day feeling ok and other times get a full 8 hours and wake up feeling rotten? It is all linked to your sleep cycles. For a start sleeping for eight hours may be worse than sleeping for 7 1/2.

Wait, what! Did you just say the first thing to do is get less sleep?

Well, yes. You see the body sleeps in cycles which last aroubd 90 -110 minutes. Everyone needs 4-5 sleep cycles every night.  These cycles vary from person to person, but working this out could be key to helping you feel less tired in the morning.

Great, what’s a sleep cycle and how do I work that out?

The first thing to do would be to get yourself a or sleep app to help determine your sleep cycle length.

Next you’ll have to sit down and work out your cycles.

If your sleep cycles are around 90 minutes and you go to sleep at 10pm and set your alarm for 5am, you’d wake up in the middle of your 5th sleep cycle. Below in the diagram you can see that by either going to sleep at 9:30 or setting your alarm for 5:30 would give you a full sleep cycle and therefore hopefully you’d wake feeling much better.

Tired but can't sleep? Diagram demonstrating a broken sleep cycle

What happens in a sleep cycle?

There are 3 main phases in a sleep cycle and are fairly consistent for most people.

Falling asleep

Sometimes the hardest part, but our body take around 5 to 10 minutes to prepare us for sleep. In this phase your eyes are closed, your body is relaxed and your body temperature will start to drop a little. This phase lasts around 5 to 10 minutes. This is the point when people feel tired but can’t sleep. Try not to get up or jump on your phone as it will pull you out of this stage. Give your body time to accept you are going to sleep and try to get as comfortable as possible.

Light Sleep

Once you have fallen asleep, your body prepares you for deep sleep. Your heart rate will slow down and your body temperature will reduce. It would be easy to wake you from this state and any noises or lights would kick you back into being awake. You are usually in a light sleep for around 15 to 20 minutes.

Deep sleep

This is the bit we all need. Nice, proper deep sleep. Our body’s can repair and recuperate, our brains can process the days events to prepare us for another day. By now your breathing will be slower, your heart rate will slow too. It is while we are in this state that we experience REM (Rapid Eye Movement).

We spend about 20% of our nights sleep in the REM state. This is when our brains are processing the information from our day and also when we are most likely to dream.

A big indicator that your sleep cycles are off, is if you are dreaming just before you wake up in the morning.

The REM state of your deep sleep can happen at anytime while you are in deep sleep.


Unbalanced Sleep Cycles

If you have calculated your sleep cycles, adjusted your bedtime schedule and are now getting 7 1/2 of sleep a night. Do you still feel rubbish? Then it may be your sleep cycles are unbalanced.

When your body is moving from falling asleep into light sleep, there maybe a combination of factors that delay you moving into deep sleep. With only light sleep you will never feel refreshed or re-energised.

It may be a simple lifestyle change is all that is required to enable you to transition more quickly into a deep sleep. Or it could be a combination of things are causing you to be tired but can’t sleep. It may require you to look at your lifestyle and make a few more changes (yes I’ve already mucked around with your bedtime routine, but it’s worth it!) if you really want to see results.

Re-balance your sleep


Yes, you knew right at the start of this article there would be a paragraph or two be-moaning the evils of caffeine blah, blah…I love coffee and I’ve even written a piece on the Coffee Nap – the ultimate power nap! Yes, to some, a good coffee is one of life’s small luxuries, but you know what else is a small luxury? Waking up in the morning feeling like you can take on the world. I’m not saying you should stop drinking coffee, but take time to consider your consumption and at what time of day.

Tired but can't sleep? Caffeine diagram

Even if you drink coffee 6 hours before bedtime, it can delay your sleep by upto an hour.

Not only does drinking coffee mean a late night, it also affects the quality of the sleep you do get. You should aim to have your last cup of coffee around 2pm, to ensure most of the caffeine is out of your system. Also reduce the amount of coffee you drink (I’m not your favourite person by now am I?) to 4 cups a day! Plus the next day you are going to need more coffee to stop you feeling tired and so the cycle continues when you lay in bed later being tired but can’t sleep.


Warning, there is a biology lesson coming up! Our intestines produce something called serotonin in our gut. Serotonin is used by our body to create melatonin. Great, you say but on earth does melatonin have to do with me getting a decent nights sleep? Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the body’s pineal gland and used to regulate our sleep and wake cycles. It is a pea-sized gland in the middle of our brains. When we are awake, the pineal is inactive, but when it starts to get dark, the pineal gland starts to produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. When we have melatonin in our blood, we start to feel tired and this will last for around 12 hours until daylight, when the melatonin levels drop to being barely detectable.

A healthy diet will help you to get a good nights sleep

By eating a healthy diet, cutting out the crap, your body can process food more easily and therefore produce more serotonin to help in the production of melatonin. Antibiotics can also play a role in disrupting your digestive system. In a future article I will cover more of the dietary aspects, but basically it is common sense. Fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, fish and chicken are perfect as long as they are fresh.


Creating a calming environment can have a very positive impact on your sleep, because although you may not realise it, your sub-conscious is analysing your environment. From the colour of the walls, to the feel of the duvet or pillow. Even the pile of clothes in the corner may cause you to feel less comfortable than you should.

After you wake up in the morning, spend a couple of minutes tidying and sorting bits out, along with removing clutter. This means when you go to bed, you walk into an already (semi) tidied room and you don’t have to move piles of clothes to get to your bed. Over the course of the week you will notice that your room should be noticeably tidier and hopefully make you feel more at ease.


The ideal temperature for your bedroom should be around 18 degrees. This is a comfortable temperature for your body to be able to control and regulate it’s own temperature during the night.


Many people choose to paint their bedroom in soft, warm tones to create a comfortable environment, however it has been proven that aqua blue or egg-shell blue are the best sleep-promoting colours!

Some colours should just be avoided, such as purple, brown, grey as they can reduce the amount of sleep you get.


A quick and easy way to make your bedroom look and feel better is to change your bedding. You don’t need to have expensive Egyptian cotton covers and micro flannel or microfibre sheets can work just as well. Changing the bedding also allows the duvet to breathe and give it a new lease of life, so when you slip under the covers it feels more comfortable. Check out our review of the best summer duvet to stay cool at night.

Try to keep all the bedding a consistent in colour and make sure that it compliments the freshly painted egg-shell blue walls. Opting for large solid colours instead of intricate patterns or Buzz Lightyear will really help to add to the calming environment you are creating.


This isn’t a simple, read this and your sleep problems are solved post. But hopefully some of the content within this piece will help you to take a good look at your sleep and make some improvements and maybe you won’t be asking yourself so often, why am I tired but can’t sleep?

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