The Doctor Is In: I Can’t Sleep!

Got a health question? Don’t trust those “Doctors” at the University Health Center? Are you scared of Web M.D. because it always tells you you’re gonna die? Ask a real doctor, our friend Dr. Lissa Rankin. She’s here every Thursday to answer whatever you throw at her – like how to know if your guy is clean – so ask away. Leave your question in the comments or send it over to us. Don’t be shy; she’s waiting for ya!

Q: Between finals, graduating and other personal stress, I can’t fall asleep at night. And then when I do, I can’t stay asleep. I’m always tired and grumpy and it’s only making everything even more stressful. Do you have any ideas for getting sleep? I heard sex might help, but I’m not sure if that’s true or if my boyfriend is just telling me that for his own selfish reasons. I really need to be alert and focused for exams and this is killing me. Help?

A: I hear you, sweetie. Insomnia can kill you (trust me, I’ve been there), especially when you’re in school, with tests, projects, and grades looming over you. The question is why can’t you sleep? Is it stress? Is it hormones, like your thyroid? Is it caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs/medications that are disrupting your sleep? Is it poor nutrition?  Is it the crazy sorority girl next door who keeps banging you up with her rocking orgasm? How to treat your insomnia depends on what’s causing it. Here are some causes:

Why Can’t I Sleep?

  1. Emotional disturbances: Anxiety and depression tend to sap your energy and they may also contribute to insomnia, which leads to poor sleep.
  2. Nutrition: If you’re filling up on junk, it’s no wonder you have trouble sleeping. Food is fuel, and if you’re filling your tank with caffeinated sugar water instead of whole foods and green things, you can’t expect to sleep well. If you treat your low energy with sugar and/or caffeine, you’re stimulating our sympathetic nervous system and revving up your pancreatic insulin production. Then when you crash, you only feel worse. Insomnia follows.
  3. Thryoid imbalance: If your thyroid hormones are out of whack, you may have trouble sleeping.
  4. Sex hormone imbalance: Fluctuations in sex hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, may lead to insomnia.
  5. Change in your Circadian rhythms: Do you pull all-nighters and then sleep all day? If you’re messing with your body’s schedule, you’ll have trouble sleeping.
  6. Poor sleep hygiene: Do you engage in restful activities before bed, or are you cramming until 3 minutes before lights out? We can’t expect our bodies and minds to just shut down without some help.
  7. Caffeine/alcohol/medications: All of these can affect your sleep patterns.

10 Tips For Helping You Sleep

  1. Try to get 8 hours of sleep at night on a regular schedule. Go to bed earlier and rearrange your schedule to allow your body the rest and rejuvenation it needs to recapture energy.
  2. Establish bedtime rituals; herbal tea, a warm bath, cinnamon milk, reading a relaxing book, meditation – whatever works for you.
  3. Avoid studying, having tough conversations, or other stressful situations just before bed.
  4. Eat a balanced whole foods diet rich in produce, lean proteins, and whole grains.
  5. Avoid caffeine, sugar, high carb foods, alcohol, and nicotine. If you’re taking medications, talk to your doctor about whether any of them might have insomnia as a side effect.
  6. Buy a juicer and drink green juice. It works miracles for insomnia and improves energy and performance, I swear!
  7. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed. It helps you fall and stay asleep.
  8. Listen to guided imagery (I love Belleruth Naparstek’s CDs and listen to them almost every night.)
  9. Sure, go ahead and try sex. Orgasm has been scientifically proven to help you sleep (won’t your boyfriend be jazzed?)
  10. If all else fails, try a safe, over-the-counter sleeping aid like Benadryl (an anti-histamine that makes you drowsy). But be aware that regular use can lead to psychological (though not physical) addiction that may make it hard for you to sleep without it. Sometimes breaking the cycle makes all the difference.

Sleep well, love!

– Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in Fall 2010. She invites you to join her Pink online community ( or read more of her writing at Owning Pink (

Resolutions For The Rest of Us
Resolutions For The Rest of Us
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