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6 Surprising Reasons You Can’t Fall Asleep

Our partners at hit show "The Doctors" dole out feel-great advice to zap common sleep problems.

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Your pillow is too hot

Resting your head on a cool pillow may help decrease core body temperature and help cause drowsiness. According to a University of Pittsburgh study, insomniacs who wore a
special cooling cap fell asleep within 13 minutes (and stayed asleep for 89 percent of the night). This compared favorably with healthy sleepers who dozed off within 16 minutes. Researchers speculate that cooling the brain, which they’ve dubbed cerebral hypothermia, slows metabolism and encourages restfulness. Try putting your pillowcase in the freezer while you get ready for bed to achieve more restful sleep. Try these weird tricks that actually help you fall asleep.

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There's a full moon

It may not turn you into a werewolf, but a full moon can make you toss and turn. Swiss researchers found that people experienced a big dip in sleep quality in the four days before and after a full moon. (They slept about 20 minutes less, spent about one third less time in deep sleep, and made less melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired.) Granted, there’s not much you can do about this, but you can at least know when there will be a full moon and expect a slight toll on your sleep.

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You didn’t give exercise a shot

Exercise can help us sleep better, but only if we stick with it, shows a recent study from Northwestern University’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine program. Insomnia patients who began an exercise regimen did eventually sleep longer and boost energy, but it took two to four months to see an effect. In other words, you can’t expect to run on a treadmill one morning and have a blissful night’s sleep that same evening. Aim for at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day, or a total of two and a half hours a week, per CDC guidelines. Try these secrets from sleep doctors to help you sleep better.

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You started a new medication

Insomnia is a frequent side effect of many drugs, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and steroids. The time of day that you take certain medications matters. We often recommend that patients take beta-blockers (for high blood pressure or arrhythmia) in the morning instead of before bed, for example. If your doctor prescribes a new drug, ask about the best time to take it.

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Your dog hogs your bed

Even people with minor pet allergies may feel worse if their pillows and sheets are sprinkled with pet dander. This can cause congestion and increase your odds of snoring, which can make it harder to fall or stay asleep. One Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders study found that more than half of patients who sleep with their furry friends say the animals disrupt their sleep. If you suspect these symptoms are affecting your slumber, declare your boudoir a pet-free zone.

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You feel your partner’s pain

In a recent study, partners of arthritis patients reported sleeping poorly on nights that their bedmates suffered higher pain levels. Couples with the closest bonds were the most affected. To ease discomfort, your partner can try solutions like a pillow placed between the knees to soothe back pain. And because anxiety can heighten the perception of pain, you both may sleep better after a calming routine such as a soothing bath. Watch out for these different types of insomnia that could be keeping you up at night.

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You slept in over the weekend

Sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday morning can be very tempting. But doing so can throw off your whole sleep schedule. It changes your biological rhythms so much that it can have the same effect as jet lag. When it comes time to fall asleep Sunday night it can be a real struggle. Set an alarm so that you wake up around the same time that you do on weekdays. You'll probably want to hit the snooze button a few times but at least you can take your time getting out of bed and getting dressed on the weekends.

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You're not wearing socks

Keeping your feet warm in bed helps you fall asleep quicker and avoid a restless nights sleep. Pulling on a pair of warm socks before bed heats up your cold feet causing your blood vessels to dilate, which tells your brain that it's time to sleep. Make these changes in your bedroom for a better nights sleep.

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You ate fatty foods

Everyone knows that drinking caffeine or eating sugary foods before bed can keep you from drifting off quickly, but it's not common knowledge that fatty foods can have the same effect. If you eat a big dinner with fatty foods, for example, steak, your body has to work really hard to digest it and working hard and sleep don't go together. Stick to light foods before bed if you want to be able to fall asleep fast.

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You're exhausted

Many people confuse being tired and being exhausted. After having a long and stressful week at work you're most likely exhausted. When your body is exhausted you might feel like you could fall asleep standing up, but you're still on high alert because of stress. When you feel this way it's best to wind down as if it were a normal night instead of falling into bed and trying to fall asleep right away. (If you keep waking up in the middle of the night your brain could be in big trouble.)

Originally Published in Reader's Digest