Featured image of restless sleep.

Restless Sleep 101

Night of restless sleep is not uncommon. Such a night happens to everyone from time to time. But if it is a recurring occurrence, then it can lead to many problems, both in the field of physical and mental health.

You can’t find the single person in the world who sleeps equally well every night. Sometimes there comes a night when you just can’t calm down, but you toss and turn for hours, trying to fall asleep, but without success. Or you fall asleep easily, but you have the feeling of floating in limbo since you can’t achieve deep sleep.

Poor night’s sleep will certainly mean that you will have a lack of energy tomorrow and that you will need a coffee or two more than usual, but nothing bad will happen to you. Tomorrow you won’t be groggy anymore. However, several such nights may indicate a sleep-wake pattern disorder. There are numerous such disorders. Restless sleep cannot be classified into any category of disorders with certainty, so we decided to analyze this topic in more detail.

Table of Contents
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    How do I recognize restless sleep?

    It is practically impossible to define restless sleep because it is such a broad term. Also, no respectable organization like the NHS and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has offered a clear definition, so we can’t do that either. But what we can do is help you recognize restless and insufficient sleep. If you have only one of these symptoms, it does not automatically mean that restless sleep is your problem, but it can certainly indicate, especially if you recognize more than one symptom.

    An image of a man sleeping on stomach in his bed.

    Lack of comfort

    Lack of comfort can be caused by an unsuitable mattress or pillow. There are so many types of pillows and mattresses, that it is not always easy to find one that perfectly fits our sleep position and body frame. You may have a mattress that is best for side sleepers and for people with hip pain, but you need a mattress for stomach sleepers and heavy people.

    a woman having a severe migraine headache

    Nevertheless if you know for sure that everything is perfect for you because you have been using these products for some time, and now you have started to feel a lack of comfort, then this can be a symptom of restless sleep. When restless sleep occurs, people complain that nothing can make them comfortable enough.

    Anxiety

    Anxiety can be characterized as a feeling but also as a disorder. Everyone is occasionally anxious, due to some everyday things like an exam or a job interview. Anxiety disorder is when that feeling constantly accompanies you even in situations where there is no real reason.

    An image of a man suffering from anxiety.

    The feeling of anxiety worsens at night and this is called nighttime anxiety. During the night things from the past or something that awaits us often come back to haunt us. Sometimes it is possible to fight on our own, and sometimes professional help is needed. In both cases, there is connection between anxiety and restless sleep.

    Being half asleep

    If you wake up after 8 hours of sleep and you are still tired, consider how many times you woke up during the night. When we can’t fall asleep, then we are sure why we are exhausted the next day. But when we are half asleep, then we feel like we are asleep, but you are not really recharging your energy.

    an image of a depressed woman that cant sleep

    There can be many reasons why you have been half asleep all night. Restless sleep often brings the feeling that dream and reality are intertwined, but it does not resemble lucid dreaming. You just can’t achieve and maintain the REM phase.

    Loud snoring that interrupts sleep pattern

    Snoring is so annoying, especially for your partner. But snoring can be much more than that. Snoring can be so loud that it interrupts the sleep pattern. Or it may indicate serious underlying problems such as obstructive and central sleep apnea. You can take a test to find out whether you have sleep apnea.

    an image of a woman cannnot sleep due to man's snoring

    You should try to solve snoring with some basic steps, such as buying a suitable pillow, nasal drops or losing a few pounds before taking a test. But there is a possibility that this will not be enough and then you have to proceed until you find out the cause.

    Teeth grinding

    In moments of anger and stress, teeth grinding can occur. It is almost always an involuntary reaction. If it happens in a moment of heightened emotions, it is quite normal. But if you notice teeth grinding often, then it is called bruxism.

    An image of a woman suffering from bruxism in sleep.

    It happens equally often at night and then it’s sleep-related bruxism. You are usually unaware of sleep-related bruxism so it is necessary for someone to point out that he or she noticed that you are gnashing your teeth before tooth damage occurs. Problems with teeth are not the only consequence of bruxism. That way you can damage temporomandibular joint as well.

    Why do I toss and turn all night?

    Having gone through some of the most common symptoms, you are now probably wondering what the causes of restless sleep are. Since restless sleep is not defined as a disorder, which we have already talked about, then finding the cause is even more complicated. Each of the following things can be the culprit, and remember that there can also be several things at once.

    Stress & anxiety

    We have dedicated the whole paragraph to the anxiety in the previous part of our article, but we certainly have to address the issue of everyday stress and anxiety in this part as well.

    insomnia produced by stress and lack of sleep

    We cannot avoid stress completely. Maybe if we live isolated on the mountain, but if you live a modern lifestyle, stress has been all around us since early childhood. Stress will take a toll over time, and anxiety and depression are some of the consequences. You have to find ways to relax to avoid restless sleep and other problems. It is up to you to choose whether it will be a sport, reading a book or some other hobby.

    Alcohol, drugs & caffeine intake

    Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, drugs and other substances have become so common that we no longer even think what harm they do to our body not only long term but also short term. We certainly don’t want to say that caffeine is the same as drugs, but they are all stimulants that negatively affect night’s sleep.

    no drinking alcohol before bed time

    It is a known fact that we should not drink too much coffee and that we should not drink it after 3 or 4 PM so that we can fall asleep on time. But caffeine is also hidden in some other drinks such as hot chocolate and tea. Tea and hot chocolate can help you fall asleep, but those two may cause opposite effect too. Alcohol has a sedative effect, so it can help you fall asleep. However, this is only part of the story, as it will prevent your brain from reaching deep sleep later. Nicotine stimulates the body and keeps you awake, like most drugs, although they have different effects depending on the type.

    Various health issues

    It would be impossible to mention every health issue that can cause sleep problems. Most health problems negatively affect sleep. Let’s start with the most common one – heart disease. Here we primarily mean chronic heart disease, and not acute as a heart attack. Most cardiac patients complain of sleeping short, waking up frequently, and having difficulty falling asleep again.

    They also experience various symptoms that may be most closely associated with restless sleep. Of course, heart disease is not the only one. All diseases that cause pain, such as fibromyalgia, arthritis and others will lead to tossing and turning. If you are older than 50, it is necessary to undergo a complete medical examination at least once a year. In this way, you will discover the problem in time and be able to control it so that it does not impair the quality of life.

    Improper sleep environment

    You would not believe how often sleep environment is to blame for various sleep problems. Most people downplay the importance of sleep environments, and this is actually crucial. The first thing you need to take care of is the room temperature. There is no ideal bedroom temperature, it depends on preferences, but it is certainly healthier to sleep in a cold room.

    An an ideal sleeping environment.

    Light and noise are equally important as temperature. There are people who can sleep in any environment, but light and noise are not good even for them. Light sleepers can’t fall asleep if it’s not completely dark and quiet. Blackout curtains are very useful because they block light, but have a significant effect on noise and temperature likewise. If the environment is too noisy, then you should use earplugs for sleeping.

    Poor sleep hygiene & habits

    There is a good chance that you are responsible for restless sleep. If your sleep hygiene is poor or even nonexistent, then you cannot expect to go in bed on time, fall asleep quickly and wake up after 8 hours of refreshing sleep.

    An image of a happy young man due to healthy sleep hygiene.

    Sleep hygiene is not one thing, but a whole routine that should become an unavoidable part of your daily schedule. During the day, it is important to eat healthy food and be physically active, as well as to take supplements. Melatonin supplementation can be a great addition. Then avoid blue lights in the evening, create the perfect environment and implement whatever else you think will be useful to you. Many people blame their genes while they actually need to consider sleep hygiene. If you fail to do so, sleep debt in inevitable.

    Underlying disorders

    There are so many sleep disorders that you have certainly not heard of every unless you are a sleep expert. We often hear about sleep drunkenness, as well as sleep inertia, microsleep and many others. For example, delayed sleep phase disorder is not that common and can cause major problems.

    However, most of these sleep disorders are not associated with restless sleep but manifest themselves in a different way. We have singled out the three most common underlying disorders. Doctors found out many patients with RLS, apnoea and insomnia also mention restless sleep.

    Restless Legs Syndrome

    Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom disease, is sometimes classified as a sleep disorder and sometimes as a nervous system disorder. This is less important, and what is important is that the symptoms of RLS are very often identical to the symptoms of restless sleep. Therefore, it is necessary to determine what is root and what is the consequence. Until this is determined, it is not possible to start treatment. Restless leg syndrome is very unpleasant but it is not dangerous, except when it is caused by diabetes, kidney problems and similar.

    An image of a woman suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome.

    Sleep apnea

    There are three types of sleep apnea – obstructive, central and complex. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and occurs due to blocked airways. What is the reason for the blocked airways, remains to be seen and that is individual. Central sleep apnea is more of a neurological problem because the brain for some reason does not send signals to the muscles to breathe regularly. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the first two, but it is very rare.

    An image of a man suffering from sleep apnea.

    Insomnia

    You have to distinguish transient insomnia or acute insomnia and chronic insomnia. There is also postpartum insomnia in the weeks after delivery. It is necessary to find out which one you are suffering from in order to determine the right treatment. Treatment can be a combination of medications and other types of stimulation, such as massaging special pressure points.

    an image of a woman suffering from insomnia problems

    Overstimulation

    Nowadays, people are exposed to much more frequent and stronger stimuli than people 50 or 100 years ago. This can involve many different things. For example, playing video games or watching an action movie are some of the more common ways of stimulation, and that is overstimulation before bedtime.

    Not to mention VR and AR when you submerge in a totally new world and the brain needs time to recover from it. In the evening you need low stimulation activities.

    An image of a woman suffering from vertigo while sleeping.

    Poor diet

    Poor diet may refer to two things – malnutrition and too much food, especially unhealthy. Malnutrition means that you do not eat enough and that you do not take in all the necessary micronutrients and macronutrients for the proper functioning of body.

    But just because you eat lots of junk food doesn’t mean you will be healthier. Junk food is completely empty and all you get from such food is high cholesterol and other health problems. Therefore, the diet must be balanced, and you should avoid large and heavy meals in the evening. Instead, choose meat, carbs and salad as the perfect dinner.

    Is restless sleep different by age?

    It is completely logical that restless sleep manifests itself differently among different age groups. Also the needs are different, so 8 hours of sleep is not enough for a baby while it is perfect for adult. Therefore, we analyzed the symptoms and impact of restless sleep from birth to old age to help you get a better idea of this somewhat elusive state.

    Infants

    We can’t define what a good night’s sleep is for infants since they should sleep most of the day. In this age group, all sleep disorders including restless sleep are very rare. But precisely because infants sleep 15 to 20 hours a day, it is easy to notice if there is a problem in the newborn’s sleep-wake cycle. If everything is fine, then make sure that the infant has a perfect sleep environment and that everything is adapted to him or her.

    An image of a baby wearing a hat while sleeping.

    Toddlers

    After about 6 months, the baby begins to accept the day-night sleep pattern and sleeps shorter than in the first months of life. Until the toddler period, a child’s sleep-wake cycle is much more like an adult sleep-wake cycle.

    an image of a baby in a standard cot bed

    Restless sleep in toddlers most often occurs between 18 and 24 months. The causes are varied, it can be poor sleep habits why the parents are to blame or the stress caused by moving to a separate room. If you notice that your child can’t just fall asleep or wake up too often and stay awake for a certain part of the night, you may need to react.

    Children

    If the child has experienced restless sleep in the toddler period, it is possible that this will continue in later stages. Also, children’s brains continue to develop, so children are more likely to experience nightmares or other parasomnias, such as sleepwalking.

    If this happens only occasionally, there is no reason for parents to worry, because parasomnias are not particularly dangerous. But if sleep interruptions are frequent then this should not be ignored. Sleep hygiene is equally important throughout life, so the same is true for this period. If you notice that there is a possibility that something bad may happen to your child or you suspect autism, seek professional advice.

    Teens

    So many changes are happening in the body of a teenager, because that is the time when a child gradually becomes an adult. Teens will certainly not be able to fall asleep very early as children, and they may try to do so and then they may experience restless sleep.

    Hormonal changes can also lead to this phenomenon, as well as stress due to school, relationships with friends, first relationships and other things that are characteristic of teenagers.

    It is very important that teens sleep enough for proper development. Poor night’s sleep will also lead to poorer results in school and then it’s a vicious circle. And don’t forget to consider conditions like ADHD that often occur in children and teens.

    An image of a young woman in a pink pajama feeling sleepy.

    Adults

    The largest number of cases of restless sleep can be found among adults. Adults are susceptible to insomnia, sleep apnea and all other disorders associated with restless sleep. Also, in this period of life, stress, anxiety and depression are almost inevitable due to huge expectations in different fields.

    Adults in particular must take care of sleep hygiene, be physically active, eat healthy and make sure they have at least 7 hours of proper night’s sleep. If you can’t overcome challenges on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    An image of a couple in a bed with a bottle of alcohol.

    Seniors

    Although various illnesses are characteristic of seniors, they usually pay much more attention to their health than adults, so they keep most diseases under control. The sleep-wake cycle varies among seniors, but there isn’t just one pattern. Some seniors sleep longer, while others cannot sleep longer than a few hours.

    As long as the circadian rhythm is such that it does not disrupt daily functioning, everything is fine. Many medications can lead to restless sleep, so you should discuss side effects with your doctor.

    An image of a senior woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

    How to get rid of restless sleep?

    There are ways to get rid of restless sleep. Most of these methods are applicable when there are no underlying health issues. But even if you suffer from an illness, our advice will help alleviate the symptoms of restless sleep and improve sleep quality.

    Improve sleep hygiene

    The chances that you will achieve healthy sleep without sleep hygiene are close to zero. That is why you should try to live healthy, because everything good you do for your body and mind also has an impact on sleep.

    An image of a young man sleeping with head pointing towards south.

    Optimize your sleep environment

    There are ways you can sleep well when hot weather and summer are in full swing. In general, you should always keep the optimum room temperature, which is certainly possible with the help of air conditioning. Also, in order not to disturb the circadian rhythm you need darkness and silence.

    an image of an optimal lighting in a bedroom

    Avoid stress, drugs & alcohol

    Stress cannot be completely avoided, but the consumption of drugs and alcohol can be avoided. You need to limit stress as much as possible, and although drugs and alcohol seem like a way to deal with stress, they actually only make the situation worse.

    An image of a man refusing drug use.

    Limit caffeine & cigarette intake

    Consuming caffeine is not bad per se, but you should take into account the amount and timing. One to two coffees a day are good, but you should consume them earlier in the day to give us energy without interfering with our night’s sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant that has many harmful effects on the body.

    Start a sleep journal to practice lucid dreaming

    Dream journal can be quite a useful thing. It can help you lucid dream which reduces anxiety and nightmares while enhancing creativity. You should be careful to distinguish lucid dreaming and daydreaming which can turn into maladaptive daydreaming.

    An image of a dream journal.

    Visit a doctor/sleep clinic

    When no other method can help you, then it’s time to visit a sleep center or sleep clinic. These are places where experts from various fields specialize in treating sleep problems work with people who suffer from insomnia, restless sleep and any other similar problem.

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