Common Causes of Inadequate Sleep

This is a fact sheet about Common Causes of Inadequate Sleep. From too much caffeine or alcohol to shift work, stress and sleep disorders, there are many reasons for not getting enough sleep.

Man sitting on the edge of his bed holding his head. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.
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January 12, 2024
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Common reasons people don't get enough sleep:

  • Taking sleep for granted
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol & sleeping tablets
  • Shift work
  • Jet lag
  • Eating and drinking late
  • Failing to wind down before bed
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Other medical conditions and pregnancy
  • Druge side effects

Taking sleep for granted

Many people do not realise how important sleep is. Instead, they may think of it as a waste of time. Time spent in bed asleep is time well spent. There are many very important things that the brain needs to do while asleep. These include forming memories and going through the day’s events. Give it a chance to do these things, make sure that you spend enough time in bed.

Too much caffeine, alcohol and sleeping tablets

The caffeine in tea and coffee is a stimulant that prevents you sleeping well. Alcohol may make you drowsy, but your sleep will be very restless. Sleeping tablets are OK to use occasionally, but not regularly. They stop working well and you may become addicted.

Shift work

Many workers have shifts that keep changing. This makes it harder to get into a regular sleep pattern. Some people adjust to shift work better than others.

Jet lag

Changing time zones can disturb the sleep pattern a lot. The internal body clock will readjust to the new zone but will take a few days.

Eating and drinking late

Eating too close to bedtime can cause heartburn and discomfort in the chest. Avoid late meals. Any snack before bedtime should be small and light. Try to limit your fluids before bedtime so that you don’t have to get up to go to the toilet during the night.

Failing to wind down before bed

Exercising, computer games and TV can disturb sleep if too close to bedtime.


Day to day living can be stressful. This can interfere with sleep. Give yourself a chance to relax and unwind before going to bed. Look at ways to make your life less stressful.

Sleep disorders

Sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless legs can be very bad for your sleep. They may not be recognised for years.

Other medical conditions and pregnancy

There are many other things that can disturb sleep. It could be a medical condition such as asthma or painful arthritis. Or it could be something psychological. The key here is finding the causes and deal with them. Pregnancy can disturb for your sleep, especially in the final months. Leg cramps, discomfort in the chest and having to go to the toilet often all play a part in this.

Drug side effects

Many over the counter and prescription drugs can disturb sleep. If you feel this may be the case, talk to your doctor. There may be other options for you.

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