Ask the Doc: Why can’t I sleep?

Related conditions


Why can’t I sleep?


If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep during the night, or if you wake early and don’t get back to sleep before you need to get out of bed, you could have insomnia. Insomnia usually also involves daytime symptoms like sleepiness, feeling tired, changes in mood and trouble focussing.

One in four Australian men have difficulty falling asleep, about one in three wake up often during the night and almost one in three wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep. Only four out of 10 Australian men wake up feeling refreshed, and just over half get enough sleep.

A few nights of sleeping badly might be enough to start some people worrying about their sleep, which can lead to chronic (long-term) insomnia. Chronic insomnia can be caused, or made worse, by certain behaviours.


If you’ve just started having trouble sleeping, or if it only happens every now and again, it’s possibly due to stress. Dealing with the stress should result in your sleep going back to normal.

Lifestyle factors and certain habits

Things like drinking alcohol, caffeine, or being physically or mentally active (e.g. exercising, watching TV or scrolling through social media) close to your bedtime, can make it difficult to sleep, and so can some medications. Not having a regular sleep time (e.g. shift work) can also contribute to insomnia.

Medical conditions

Insomnia can be a symptom of some health conditions (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression), or it can be caused by symptoms caused by other problems that get worse in the evening (e.g. asthma, arthritis). Other sleep disorders (e.g. restless leg syndrome) can also cause insomnia. Treatment, or better management, of these health problems might help to reduce insomnia. 

What to do about insomnia

You should make an appointment to see your general practitioner if you have insomnia. They can help to work out why you’re having trouble sleeping and recommend treatment if necessary.

A/Prof Tim Moss

Tim Moss

Biomedical research scientist

Associate Professor Tim Moss has PhD in physiology and more than 20 years’ experience as a biomedical research scientist. Tim stepped away from his successful academic career at the end of 2019, to apply his skills in turning complicated scientific and medical knowledge into information that all people can use to improve their health and wellbeing. Tim has written for and Scientific American’s Observations blog, which is far more interesting than his authorship of over 150 academic publications. He has studied science communication at the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science in New York, and at the Department of Biological Engineering Communication Lab at MIT in Boston.



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