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18 Medical Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep

If you are trying to fall asleep, but unable to do so or if you are having trouble sleeping, then you should be made aware that there are several medical reasons behind this. It is true that if you are not having enough sleep then you might feel low and drowsy the next day. So, you should know about the various medical reasons why you can’t sleep and try to find out the solution for them. Let us read further to know about some of the medical reasons why you can’t sleep.

18 Medical Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep

A disturbance in sleep might be a symptom of a health problem or an adverse effect of any therapy for treating the problem. The stress of chronic illness could also result in insomnia and drowsiness during the daytime. Some of the common conditions which are usually associated with sleep issues are diabetes, heartburn, musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, kidney disease, respiratory issues, and thyroid disease.

Below let us take a look at some of the medical reasons why you can’t sleep.

Sleep Apnea:

One of the most common medical conditions that can cause you difficulty in sleeping is sleep apnea. An overweight man who snores and women of any size can develop this condition of sleep apnea. Usually, a woman with a narrow jaw or a change in muscle tone can get sleep apnea. One must be made aware that snoring is not the primary symptom if you have sleep apnea, however, you will notice that you feel especially sleeping during the daytime.

You should consult with a sleep specialist, make few lifestyle adjustments like sleeping on your side and, losing extra pounds of your body weight. You might be suggested with an oral appliance or a CPAP machine that would blow air into your airways to keep them properly open at night.

Magnesium Deficiency:

Many people suffer from magnesium deficiency. A magnesium deficiency could be one more medical condition why you can’t sleep. For sleeping and staying asleep, our body and brain require to relax.

Not having enough magnesium in your body can cause troubled sleep and also insomnia.(1) Studies in mice have also shown that optimal levels of magnesium are required for normal sleep and that both low and high levels of this mineral can result in sleep issues.(2)

On a chemical level, this mineral helps this process by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, or the system that is responsible for getting you relaxed and calm.(3)

First, magnesium regulates neurotransmitters, which send signals throughout your nervous system and the brain.

The mineral also regulates the melatonin hormone, which guides the sleep-wake cycles in our body.(4)

Second, magnesium binds to GABA or Gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for quieting down nerve activity. This is the same neurotransmitter used by sleep drugs, such as Ambien.(5,6)

So, many studies have shown the effectiveness of magnesium in enhancing mood, reducing anxiety, and stress levels, and helping with more restful sleep. Magnesium deficiency results in muscle tension, adrenal surges, nerve irritability, muscle cramps, and reduced production of serotonin. All these symptoms and conditions are known to interfere with your sleep. So, adding magnesium to your diet could be very beneficial in improving sleep quality and quantity.

It is suggested by the Institute of Medicine that a daily dietary intake of 310 to 360 mg of magnesium is the right dose for adult women and 400 to 420 mg is the right dose for adult men.(7)

Drinking water and consuming foods, like nuts, green vegetables, cereals, fish, meat, and fruits will give you enough magnesium.(7)

Chronic Pain:

Arthritis pain or any other kinds of pain make it difficult for you to sleep. However, it is also true that a lack of sleep can increase the pain.

Researchers say that a lack of sleep might activate inflammatory pathways that exacerbate your pain of arthritis. Poor sleep could even make you more sensitive to the feeling of your pain.

You can try using a heating pad or can take a hot shower before bed to get relief from achy joints. However, it is important for you to see your doctor if there is severe pain that might make it difficult to sleep in night.

Breathing Problems:

Circadian-related changes in the muscle tones of muscles surrounding the airways can cause the airways to constrict during nighttime, thus raising the potential for nocturnal asthma attacks that could rouse the sleeper abruptly.

Difficulties in breathing or fear of having an asthma attack might make it more difficult to fall asleep.

People suffering from bronchitis or emphysema might also have problems falling and staying asleep because of excess production of sputum, breath-shortness, and coughing.

Thyroid Disease:

One of the major medical reasons why you can’t sleep could be thyroid disease. An overactive thyroid gland or hyperthyroidism can result in sleep issues. This disorder over-stimulates your nervous system, thus making it difficult to fall asleep, and might also result in night sweats, resulting in night-time arousals. Feeling cold and sleepy could be due to an under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism.

Because the function of thyroid affects every organ and system in our body, the symptoms could be wide-ranging and at times could be difficult to decipher. To check thyroid function you would require to take one simple blood test. So, if you notice any variety of unexplained symptoms, you should consult with your doctor for a thyroid test.


Heartburn can also make it quite uncomfortable for you to sleep. Lying down usually worsens heartburn, which is caused by the backup of stomach acid into your esophagus. You might be able to avoid this issue by restricting fatty foods and also coffee and alcohol in the evening.

You can also elevate your upper body using an under-mattress wedge placed under the bedposts. Some prescription and OTC drugs that could suppress stomach acid secretion could also help you in treating heartburn and get you relief from sleepless nights.


COPD or Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can make it difficult for you to get a proper sleep at night. Many patients with COPD also suffer from insomnia, depression, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Again, the medications which are used for treating COPD, including steroids and bronchodilators, can also cause difficulties in sleeping. You should talk with your doctor about the treatment of your condition as early as possible.

Nasal Problems:

Patients with a deviated septum can’t sleep in the night. Ideally, one must breathe through the nose and might even snore. However, patients with a deviated septum usually have worse symptoms when they sleep due to the gravity. Deviated nasal symptoms can naturally occur from genetics, or after an injury.

If you have a deviated septum you might try allergy medicines, however, in general a nasal surgery like rhinoplasty or septoplasty is required for appropriate nasal relief and better sleep.

Restless Leg Syndrome:

There are several studies that demonstrate that sleep disturbances are a key consequence, and also the most troublesome symptom of restless leg syndrome.(8)

Restless leg syndrome is a sleep-related movement disorder can substantially impact your sleep. This condition is associated with symptoms like stinging, tingling, or creepy-crawly sensations before bedtime, periodic limb movement disorder, or an involuntary rhythmic movement of the legs. If you suspect having restless leg syndrome make sure you consult with your doctor and also see a sleep doctor.

Urinary Incontinence:

Urinary incontinence is also a medical condition that can easily compromise sleep. While urinary incontinence affects women more often than men, millions of both women and men suffer with some type of bladder control problem at some point of their lives and many suffer from symptoms, which impact their sleep quality significantly. It would be right to say that needing to go to the bathroom in the night quite frequently can keep you up all night and thus affect your quantity and quality of sleep.

It is said that diet and lifestyle changes could help with bladder control. One must also reduce the intake of caffeine. Caffeine helps in stimulating bladder function and it is even known as a diuretic.


Migraines and headaches can keep you from falling asleep at night. Studies have shown that people with serious headaches, including migraine, have difficulty falling asleep.(9)

Again, if you can’t sleep properly, the condition of your headache or migraine pain can worsen. Not getting enough sleep or getting an excess of sleep, can trigger migraine.

You should remain well hydrated, eat a balanced and nutritious diet, and stay active, which aids in reducing the onset of migraine, and helps you sleep better.

Depression And Anxiety:

One of the symptoms of depression is a change in sleep patterns. Many individuals with depression experience trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If sleeplessness in you is accompanied by other symptoms like mood changes, unexpected weight loss or gain, anxiety, disinterest in enjoyable activities, or suicidal thoughts, you should seek help from a mental health professional.

We must also mention that sleep disturbances, especially insomnia, are highly prevalent in case of anxiety disorders.

Phobias And Panic Attacks:

Phobias or the intense fears related to a specific situation or object, rarely cause sleep issues unless the phobia is itself related to sleep(like nightmares or of the bedroom).

On the other hand panic attacks, usually strike at night. Sleep-related panic attacks usually do not happen during dreaming, rather in stage N@ or light sleep and stage N3 or deep sleep, which are free of psychological triggers. In several types of phobias and panic disorders, diagnosing and treating the underlying problem, usually with an anti-anxiety medicine, might solve the problem of sleep disturbance.


Some individuals suffering from schizophrenia are likely to sleep very little in the early, the most severe stage of an episode. Their sleep patterns are most likely to improve in between their episodes, although many individuals with the condition rarely obtain a normal amount of quality sleep.

Bipolar Disorder:

One of the prominent features of Bipolar disorder is disturbed sleep. Sleep loss might exacerbate or induce manic symptoms or even alleviate depression temporarily. During a manic episode, the person might not sleep for several days. Such occurrences are usually followed by a “crash” during which the affected individual spends most of the next few days sleeping.


Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia might disrupt sleep regulation and other functions of the brain. In such cases, you can take small doses of antipsychotic medicines that are quite beneficial.


Epilepsy is a condition when the affected person is prone to seizures and is twice as likely as others to suffer from sleep issues or insomnia.

About 1 in every 4 people with epilepsy have seizures that occur mostly at night, thus causing disturbed sleep and sleepiness during the daytime. So epilepsy is one of the medical conditions why you can’t sleep.


Menopause can also cause sleep problems. Menopause introduces physical, psychological, and hormonal changes for women. It is reported that women from peri-menopause to post-menopause suffer from sleeping problems. They suffer from symptoms of insomnia, mood disorders, sleep-disordered breathing, and hot flashes. Sleep problems in such women are accompanied by anxiety and depression.

This can be treated with estrogen replacement therapy or ERT or with estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy( HRT).

Final Words:

There are so many medical conditions that can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. We talked about some of the medical conditions why you can’t sleep. In addition to all these health conditions, there are even many OTC medications and prescription medicines used for treating these illnesses that can impair your sleep quality and quantity. It is always essential for you to consult with your doctor if you find it difficult to fall asleep and know about the underlying health condition so that you can be treated appropriately.


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 30, 2020

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