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Sleep expert reveals what could be causing your sleepless nights

Many people will experience trouble sleeping at some point in their lives. In fact, according to the NHS, insomnia is thought to affect around one in three adults and is particularly prevalent among the elderly.

Insomnia can be extremely frustrating whether you experience hours of tossing and turning each night or only once in a while. Isolating the cause of your sleeplessness is essential for fixing it.

With this in mind, sleep experts at Bed Kingdom reveal eight potential causes of insomnia and research-backed solutions to help fix your sleepless nights and develop better sleep hygiene.

Caffeine consumption

That innocuous afternoon coffee might be more havoc on your ability to sleep than you realize. According to one study published in the National Library of Medicine, caffeine was found to have a half-life of around five hours in healthy individuals, which means it could take around five hours for half of that caffeine to be cleared from your body. Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that naturally builds up in the body during the day and creates pressure to sleep.

While it may sound extreme, if you are having trouble drifting off in the evening, consider cutting off caffeine 8 to 12 hours before bedtime. If you typically go to bed at 11 pm, this could mean having your last caffeinated drink at around 1 pm in the afternoon and opting for decaffeinated options for the remainder of the day.

Blue light exposure 

The blue light emitted by electronic devices like smartphones and laptops can interfere with your body’s natural sleep cycle. Blue light can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep. The body produces melatonin in response to darkness, contributing to maintaining the body’s natural circadian rhythm. According to a study published by Harvard Medical School, blue light disrupts the body’s production of melatonin more powerfully and for twice as long as other wavelengths of light.

Try keeping electronic devices out of your bedroom, or avoid using them a few hours before bedtime. Scheduling the night mode setting on devices can also filter out some of the blue light emitted from screens in the evening.

Daytime habits can also contribute to a healthy circadian rhythm and fewer sleep disruptions. Getting as much natural daylight exposure during the day can help reset your natural sleep schedule. Try to get around 15 minutes of sunlight first thing in the morning on a sunny day and up to 30 minutes on a more overcast day.

Irregular sleep schedule

The Sleep Foundation recommends having a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, as necessary for good sleep hygiene. A regular daily routine for when you go to bed and wake up, normalizes your body’s sleep schedule and helps you to feel sleepy and awake at the appropriate times. Going to bed and waking up at different times can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep in the evening.

Incorporating a winding down period at the end of the day can help you relax before bedtime and help you fall asleep at a regular time. Try meditating, taking a warm bath, or listening to a calming podcast.

Poor sleep environment 

A comfortable sleep environment is crucial for quality sleep. If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, it may be because your sleeping conditions are sub-optimal. An uncomfortable bed or a bedroom that is too bright, noisy, hot, or cold can make it difficult to get quality sleep.

Consider using an eye mask and earplugs to block out any ambient light and noise entering your bedroom, and check whether your duvet is appropriate for the outside temperature.

The Sleep Foundation suggests keeping your bedroom between 15.6 – 19.4 degrees Celsius for the best quality sleep. Your body’s temperature naturally drops by 1-2 degrees as you fall asleep, so having a colder room can be conducive to aiding this natural drop in body temperature and help you fall asleep more easily.


Some medications, such as antidepressants, steroids, and beta-blockers, can interfere with the quality and duration of your sleep.

Suppose you are experiencing sleep disturbances after starting a new medication. In that case, it is important to speak with your doctor, as they can address whether an active ingredient or certain dosage might be affecting your sleep. They can then lower the dosage or change the medication if the problem persists.

Alcohol and nicotine consumption 

While alcohol can often make you fall asleep faster, drinking it close to bedtime can cause fragmented sleep and can be the cause of frequent waking throughout the night. Studies have found that drinking alcohol within four hours of bedtime can negatively affect sleep continuity and duration, leading to longer ‘wake after sleep onset’ (WASO), where you wake up during the night and struggle to get back to sleep.

If you are having trouble staying asleep after an evening drink, try to have your last drink around 4 hours before you go to bed to ensure that your body has had ample time to digest and metabolize the alcohol before you try to fall asleep.

A study by Zandy et al. (2020) also found that nicotine consumption positively correlates with insomnia and sleep disturbances. Nicotine use impacts the body’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Thus, quitting smoking might help you sleep better.


While napping can help you catch up on lost sleep, longer naps later in the day can interfere with our ability to sleep at night. During each typical 90-minute sleep cycle, we progress through two distinct types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). NREM sleep is further divided into four stages, the first two of which consist of light sleep, while the second two consist of deeper sleep.

Napping earlier in the day and for short periods means that our sleep is more likely to remain in these first two stages of light NREM sleep rather than dipping into stages three and four NREM sleep. Napping for longer than 20 minutes later in the day means you are more likely to enter these deeper phases of NREM sleep, and this can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

If you need to nap during the day, aim for short naps between 10-20 minutes in the morning or before 2 pm. Avoid naps longer than 20 minutes or take them in the late afternoon or at night.

Eating before bed

Eating too close to bedtime can also interfere with sleep. Studies show that while eating too close to bedtime may not affect sleep duration, it can lead to frequent awakenings and increased wakefulness after sleep onset (WASO). This can be due to gastrointestinal discomfort and reflux during digestion at irregular hours, as digestion is less efficient at night than during the day due to the body’s natural circadian rhythms.

Try to eat your last meal at least two hours before bedtime to ensure ample time for proper digestion. Keeping your evening meal lighter and avoiding spicy foods are also good ways to reduce the risk of food interfering with a good night’s sleep.

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