Restless Sleep: What It Is and How to Handle It?

Fact Checked Medically reviewed by Tanja Premru-Sršen


Many people do not appreciate good, restful sleep and good sleep hygiene at night until they experience restless sleep that leaves them tossing and turning, as well as feeling tired and groggy the following day. Poor sleep hygiene can really affect the quality of one’s life and healthy sleep.

Restful, healthy sleep and sleep hygiene is just like having an unplugged nose; you do not even know how much you appreciate it until you lose it.

Experiencing a night of restless sleep can sometimes feel like doing an extra shift at your day job, and that is no one’s goal. The goal is to achieve healthy sleep and restful sleep every night.

What Is Restless Sleep?

Unfortunately, there is no official clinical definition of the term restless sleep.

Still, this term is used worldwide to explain a cluster of symptoms, such as difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality, frequent awakenings in the middle of the night, a racing mind in the middle of the night, excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep deprivation, and the feeling of not completely falling asleep at night (or feeling as you are only half asleep).

Is Restless Sleep Connected with Age?

Even though elderly people do tend to suffer from restless sleep and poor night’s sleep more often, restless sleep is not connected with age. Everyone can suffer from poor night’s sleep, but it is generally the most common among the older population, according to the American sleep association.

As we get older, the sleep stages become less and less deep, and the nighttime awakenings become more common.

Another demographic that tends to suffer from restless sleep is teenagers and young adults. This happens because teenage years come with a natural biological shift to a later sleep schedule. This occurrence is entirely natural, so it is not unusual for adolescents to experience restless sleep when they go to bed too early or stick to an earlier sleeping schedule.

In younger children, restless sleep can be diagnosed as a pediatric sleep disorder called restless sleep disorder (RSD), depending on the severity of the symptoms observed in the child by the health care provider.

The restless sleep disorder is often successfully treated with iron supplementation.

Causes Of Restless Sleep

There are some factors and triggers that can leave you tossing and turning at your bed at night without a good night’s sleep. Some of the most common causes are sleep disorders, and some are other lifestyle changes.

Some of the most common triggers and causes of restless sleep include:

Caffeine and sugar consumption

Excessive caffeine consumption during the day can lead to restless and insufficient sleep at night, leaving you without the much-needed good night’s sleep.

Caffeine can also mess with your natural circadian rhythm, which can leave you restless during the night, and sleepy during the day.

Similarly, excessive consumption of sugar can spike up your blood sugar levels, leaving you hyper and motivated to do a thousand tasks to avoid laying still and falling asleep.

Chronic stress

If you feel overloaded at work, stressed out with family drama, or just daily life, you might have difficulty falling asleep at night.

Stress can also play a factor in the quality of your sleep.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, is a sleep disorder that can often cause restless nights. Some of the main symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include trouble sleeping, trouble breathing at night, loud snoring, frequent gasps throughout the night, and many others.

These symptoms make it very difficult to get into a deep sleep, which can lead to waking up with a headache or sore throat and feeling drowsy during the day. If you think you may have OSA, seeing a sleep specialist receive the treatment you need is more than recommended.

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)

Some of the main symptoms of RBD include activity, such as sitting up in bed, flailing your arms, or even walking around the house while you are sleeping.

If you are suffering from RBD, it is imperative to see a sleep specialist to get prescribed the correct treatment and medication and avoid hurting yourself or your partner during the night.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS for short, one of the sleep disorders that causes an uncomfortable sensation or discomfort in the legs, which urges the brain to keep moving them at all times.

Restless legs syndrome may be the cause of issues falling asleep, as well as restless sleep. So, if you find yourself getting up to walk around at night frequently, kicking during your sleep, or moving your legs at all times, you may be showing symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

Ways To Handle Restless Sleep, Fall Asleep Faster, and Improve Sleep Hygiene

Before you make an appointment with your doctor and then your sleep specialist later, there are some lifestyle changes that you can try to get rid of those restless nights, sleep disorders, and improve your overall poor sleep hygiene.

Some of the ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:

  • Avoid scrolling on your phone or binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix until morning hours. In fact, you should avoid any blue light a few hours before going to bed and falling asleep. Hours before going to bed should be spent doing relaxing activities, such as waking a warm bath, doing skincare, reading, meditating, and so on. Make your sleep environment comfortable and blue-light-free, to improve your sleep patters and stop experiencing restless sleep.
  • Make the room you are sleeping in cool. By grabbing the cozy blanket and turning the thermostat down, you will create a much more comfortable and much healthier sleeping atmosphere. You will also lower your body temperature, which will bring better sleep.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine and sugar right before going to bed. Caffeine and sugar in your system will make falling and staying asleep very difficult. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule will help you practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Eat dinner earlier. It is recommended to have dinner two or three hours before going to bed in order to allow your body to break down your food and improve the quality of your sleep, to help stick to the regular sleep schedule and beat sleep issues.

When To See a Doctor Regarding Restless Sleep?

Chances are, the majority of people have experienced occasional restless nights filled with nothing but tossing and turning and the burning desire to just fall asleep like you have done thousands of times before.

This occasional restless night and night of restless sleep is pretty common for the majority of people.

However, how can you know how much restless sleep is normal and what is an issue that requires professional help and medical advice from healthcare providers and sleep specialists?

For average, healthy sleepers, experiencing restless sleep and disturbed sleep from time to time is normal and expected.

However, if you start to experience sleepless nights more than three days per week or if you find yourself not being able to fall back asleep after waking up during the night, a doctor’s visit is more than recommended since you may have underlying medical conditions.

Related Questions:

Why am I restless overnight?

Restless sleep could often indicate a sleep disorder for adults, such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome (RLS).

Restless sleep can also be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or another mental health issue.

Why is my body so restless?

There are a lot of different factors that make it difficult to fall asleep at night and contribute to feeling restless at night and losing quality sleep.

According to the national sleep foundation, some of those factors include taking stimulating medications, bad sleep habits, neurologic problems, stopping medications and suffering from side effects, drinking too much caffeine, hormonal imbalances, chronic pain, or mental health conditions.


Restless sleep is prevalent, and most people have experienced restless sleep a few times in their lives before.

Several different factors and causes can trigger and cause feeling restless when sleeping, and several lifestyle changes can minimize the symptoms and improve sleep habits, which can help in achieving healthy sleep.

If restless sleep is bothering you often, and you have tried everything in the book, but nothing seems to be helping you sleep better at night and achieve more restful sleep, seek out professional medical advice from a healthcare provider.