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Why is It so Hard to Fall Asleep When I Am Overtired?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many people have had the unpleasant experience of being unable to sleep despite total exhaustion. If you are overtired, falling asleep or staying that way can be paradoxically difficult for many reasons. Stress, lack of proper nutrition and not taking good care of your body can all affect your sleeping patterns, especially when you are too tired.

It is important to understand why you are so tired to begin with. If you are going through a stressful time at work or in your life, your exhausted brain may seem unable to shut down and let you sleep. Being overtired as a result of stress is common, if you are experiencing emotional or mental trauma, you may temporarily lose the control to relax.

Fatigue can also lead to an inability to sleep because you are trying too hard. If you have ever experienced a night where you lay awake thinking, “I must go to sleep. Why can’t I sleep?” then you may be maintaining consciousness through your efforts to force yourself into sleep. This may also be related to anxiety over not getting enough sleep, knowing that you must get up in a few hours and need all the sleep you can manage.

In some situations where you are overtired, you are likely to have neglected to properly take care of your body. Even though you may not feel hungry or thirsty, lack of good, healthy food or sufficient hydration can be enough to keep you awake. If you are in a busy or stressful period, try to make sure you get a healthy dinner at the very least, and make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Stress on the body can lead to stress on the mind, which may in turn prevent you from sleeping when you most need it.

Many people who are too tired try to make up for it during the day by drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee. While this may get you through the day, it can actually be counterproductive as it can lose you another night of rest and leave you even more exhausted the next day. If you are overtired, try to stop drinking caffeine by the early afternoon, to make sure it will be out of your system by bedtime. Drink water or low-sugar, cold beverages to wake yourself up, if necessary.

Fatigue can also lead you to neglect good exercise habits. You can certainly get exhausted sitting at a computer all day, but this isn’t the same as fatigue caused by physical exertion. If your body is not maintaining an adequate rate of physical activity, it may not feel the need to shut down and rest even though you would very much like it to. Even if you are overtired, try taking a thirty minute walk after work or when you have time. Be sure not to do highly aerobic activity just before bedtime, however, as it can be counterproductive.

To help you sleep when you are overtired, give yourself time for focused relaxation before bedtime. Instead of flopping down with the television, try reading an old favorite book, doing some light yoga or meditation, or taking a long bath. Help set up your bedroom to be a sleep-inducing location by keeping it clean, uncluttered, and peaceful. Dairy products like milk are high in tryptophan, which can help make you sleepy. Making a cup of warm milk with a bit of cinnamon a nightly habit can be a great way to get calcium and help you fall asleep.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for The Health Board. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon341990 — On Jul 16, 2013

@anon327256: I've heard that people who can't fall asleep at a regular hour should watch how they spend the last few hours before bedtime. Doing exercises or housework is a great way to burn off energy and feel better about your surroundings, but you probably shouldn't do either one just before going to bed. The process for going to bed should be just that: a process. I'd suggest getting into a routine that will tell your body it's time to start shutting down. Turn off the TV, take a relaxing bath and start reading a book in bed. Turn on quiet music, or invest in a sound generator that recreates ocean waves or other natural sounds. Your only goal should be to get relaxed enough that sleep just comes naturally. If your work schedule allows it, you might also need to find a different bed time that suits your body's natural sleep pattern. Some people just can't go to sleep at 9 p.m. because they are natural night owls. If you're simply not tired yet, find something undemanding to do until you feel the urge to sleep.

I have also found that over-the-counter sleep aids can be very effective, but you can't always count on them putting you to sleep. It's more like getting into a deeper sleep state once the medication takes effect. Getting to sleep is just as much mental as it is physical, so you may also want to do some meditation or call a friend to discuss any issues that are bothering you.

By anon327256 — On Mar 27, 2013

I am doing aerobics for one hour per day and do the household activities. At night, I feel over tired and I am having body aches. I am not able to sleep. What should I do?

By FrameMaker — On Aug 26, 2010

@ Istria- I had problems with my daughter being overtired when she was a baby, and at first, I couldn't figure it out. She was just such a fussy baby.

Anyway, one of my mother’s friends told me that babies need a certain amount of sleep a day, and they like to sleep on schedules (schedules that may not match your schedule). It made sense because I remembered my fiancée always complaining that the baby would constantly move around from 11 at night to two in the morning.

Her tip to us was to get my daughter on a regular nap schedule, and try to let her fall asleep in her own bed in a quiet room. Our daughter would take two two-hour naps a day, and then sleep through most of the night. We had to train her to fall asleep in her own bed, but eventually it worked, and we became happy parents of a well-rested baby.

We had to adjust our schedule, but it worked out better in the end. We were able to rest better ourselves, since baby would sleep better through the night. To this day, she still tells us when she is ready for a nap or bedtime.

By istria — On Aug 26, 2010

I have an overtired baby that has trouble sleeping. I am a first time parent so I would like to see my baby be able to sleep peacefully. Does anyone have any tips for helping a baby sleep better?

By GenevaMech — On Aug 26, 2010

@ Babalaas- You are right about exercise helping to clear the mind. I love basketball and I play pick-up games at least once a week. These are the nights that I sleep the soundest.

When I am having a particularly stressful day, I like to take a little time to shoot around. I start to focus on the rim, and my dribbling. Within no time, I have forgotten about what has been stressing me out.

A person does not have to play basketball, or exercise for that matter, to relieve stress. I think anything that causes a person to focus and concentrate can be helpful in relieving stress. Reading, meditating, even playing video games will take you away from reality for a few moments. Any of these activities can give most people just enough of a break to wind down.

By Babalaas — On Aug 26, 2010

One thing that helps me when I am overtired and can't sleep is to get some light exercise. I do not want to do a strenuous exercise because it will actually keep me up, but I will find something to do that requires me to focus on the task. This helps me clear my mind, and reduce stress. A brief swim, short walk, or a little tai chi will help overcome the things that have been causing me anxiety throughout the day. Usually within a half hour after doing something relaxing I will be relaxed enough to sleep.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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