Fact checked by Jonathan Eilenberg, CPE
Jonathan Eilenberg, CPE
Jonathan Eilenberg is a Certified Professional Ergonomist who is a Senior Ergonomics Engineer at Casper with over 6 years of experience in occupational injury prevention.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice.
Do you find yourself endlessly tossing and turning at night, kicking off your blankets only to pull them back up, and checking the clock every hour? If so, you’re probably experiencing restless sleep.
What is restless sleep? There’s no agreed-upon definition, since it isn’t a clinical disorder. People with restless sleep typically have a hard time falling and staying asleep and may also wake up frequently throughout the night. Restless sleep is a frustrating experience, since we all crave some peaceful shut-eye at the end of a long day.
However, you can help yourself sleep more deeply by identifying what’s causing your restlessness. In this article, we’ll explore the possible causes of restless sleep and ways you can improve your sleep hygiene to get better zzz’s.
Restless sleep is not a disorder in adults. There’s no official definition, but people who experience restless sleep may have a tough time falling and staying asleep and have frequent nighttime awakenings.
Here are several possible signs of restless sleep, according to Sleep Foundation:
Everyone experiences a rough night once in a while. However, repeated nights of restless sleep can be serious. In the short term, disrupted sleep can cause increased stress, emotional distress, memory problems, and performance issues. In the long term, sleep disruptions can lead to serious health issues like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
It’s common to wake up during REM sleep and in the early hours of the morning from time to time. People also tend to shift around in their sleep at night without even knowing it. That said, what percentage of restless sleep is normal?
According to Jax Sleep Center, normal sleepers can experience 10 to 30 restless periods during the night. Many people experience nocturnal awakenings — one study showed that 35% of people reported nocturnal awakenings at least three nights each week. So if you have a night of restless sleep or experience it every here and there, you shouldn’t have cause for concern.
Sleep is different for everyone, but it’s generally recommended to get 8 hours of sleep per night for adults. If restless sleep impacts your ability to get enough sleep, persists for weeks, affects your quality of life, and/or causes excessive daytime sleepiness, you should see a doctor. A sleep specialist can help you diagnose a sleep disorder or other underlying medical condition.
Below, we’ll explore some possible causes of restless sleep.
70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia can all contribute to feeling restless and losing sleep.
Bear in mind that there are many more sleep disorders than those listed above. If you have — or suspect you may have — a sleep disorder, please see a doctor or sleep specialist for help.
Stress can also be the culprit behind restless sleep. Our State of Sleep in America report found that stress nearly doubles the chance of poor-quality sleep. Plus, 81% of Americans said that their mental activity (thinking, feelings, or a racing mind) has prevented them from getting a good night’s sleep.
Mental health is also a critical component of good sleep. Our study also found that those who rate their general mental health as “excellent” or “very good” are six times more likely to get high-quality sleep than are those who rate their mental health “fair” or “poor.” Addressing mental health issues with a professional may help you achieve more tranquil sleep.
Foods like fried food, high-fat food, high-sodium food, spicy food, and tomato-based sauces aren’t great to eat before bed. These foods take longer to digest and can cause heartburn and acid reflux. A high intake of carbs can also contribute to less deep sleep.
Consuming caffeine, alcohol, or energy drinks before bed can also mess with your sleep cycle and make it more difficult to sleep. Try to cut down on these foods, especially in the hours before bedtime, to see if they are having an effect on your sleep quality.
If you are pregnant, the changes in your body can cause uncomfortable, restless nights. Sleeping while pregnant can come with a host of challenges, from increased trips to the bathroom to an inability to get comfortable. Sleeping on your side is usually your best bet for comfort. You can also try hugging a body pillow to feel cozier.
If you’ve recently pulled an all-nighter, experienced jet lag, or worked a night shift, your sleep schedule might be off. An irregular sleep schedule can throw off your body’s internal clock. You’ll need to work on fixing your sleep schedule to improve your sleep quality.
If your bed is too soft or too firm, it could be contributing to your restlessness. An old bed might even cause back pain, which means you should really be in the market for a new mattress.
Your bed may be too soft if you sink into the mattress, causing your hips to sit lower to your shoulders.
Your bed may be too firm if your bed feels like a board and you can’t get comfortable during the night.
A medium-firm mattress is usually a happy medium. However, you should research how to choose a mattress that’s right for you and make the choice based on your sleep position, body type, and preferences.
Sleep hygiene refers to the practice of good behavioral and environmental sleep habits each night. Examples of poor sleep hygiene include too many naps during the day, getting exposure to lots of light right before bed, and having an inconsistent sleep schedule. There are plenty of steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene — more on that below.
Restless sleep affects you differently at different stages of life. Here’s an overview of restless sleep by age.
Restless sleep disorder is a pediatric disorder that affects children ages 6 to 18. Children with this disorder may experience prolonged restless sleep and can experience mood and behavioral problems, among other negative symptoms. Thankfully, restless sleep disorder in children has been shown to be treated with iron supplementation. If your child is experiencing many nights of restless sleep, visit your pediatrician to discuss your options.
It’s common for teens and young adults to struggle with restless sleep. Hormonal shifts and biological changes can lead to sleepless nights for teens, and their sleep schedules tend to shift around.
Young adults may also feel the effects of stress on sleep more than other age groups. Nearly 7 in 10 young adults say sleep has a direct impact on their mood, compared to 3 in 10 adults over the age of 65.
Work and other obligations can negatively impact sleep in adults. Restless sleep in adults can be caused by a myriad of factors, including stress, anxiety, or depression. This age group may also suffer from underlying sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome or insomnia. Certain medications can also contribute to restless sleep. It’s always a good idea to speak to a medical professional to identify the cause of sleep problems.
As we age, our relationship with sleep may change. The elderly spend less time in deep sleep, may experience discomfort or pain from other health conditions, and may need to get up to use the restroom more frequently. While some of these changes are normal parts of aging, you should still seek help from a medical professional if restless sleep is negatively affecting your quality of life.
Thankfully, if your restless sleep is due to poor sleep hygiene, there are things you can do immediately to improve your situation. Here are some tips to try that may help you drift off more peacefully.
Set yourself up for success with the right temperature and humidity in your bedroom. The best temperature for sleep is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit, while the best humidity for sleep is between 30 and 50 percent. Adjust these numbers based on what feels most comfortable to you.
75% of people who rate their sleep as “excellent” have a specific bedtime routine. Setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time will ease you into a routine over time. While it may take some time, after a while your body will adjust to the schedule and recognize when to fall asleep. Sticking to a bedtime routine and maintaining a sleep schedule can help increase your energy levels during the day and help you feel more rested.
Exposure to light before bed can throw off your circadian rhythm and disrupt the signals that tell your body it’s time to sleep. Try to put away your phone and other bright electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
You can also block late night street lamps and early morning sunlight with blackout curtains. If some light still peaks through your window, or if you sleep next to a partner who reads with a light at night, wear a sleep mask to block out distractions.
Avoid coffee and alcohol for four hours before bed. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy at first, but can cause you to wake up frequently during the night.
Instead of an evening cup of coffee or glass of wine, try some chamomile tea before bed.
Getting 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day can promote sleep and help decrease the number of times you wake up at night. However, try not to exercise for two hours before bed. Doing so can increase your heart rate and make it harder to wind down for the night.
If you have trouble sleeping, try to eliminate late-night snacks. Eating before bed can disrupt your sleep quality and make it harder to get a good night’s rest. Instead, finish your last meal two to three hours before you hit the hay. If you’re hungry, snack on healthy foods that help you sleep, like almonds, hummus, and bananas.
If you have a pup who likes to snuggle with you in bed, be honest: are they impacting your sleep quality? There are pros and cons to letting your dog sleep in your bed, but if your dog is large and tends to move around, kick, or take up your space at night, they may be contributing to your restless sleep. In this case, you can invest in a good dog bed and encourage your pup to enjoy their own space on the floor.
Many people are kept awake by anxious thoughts at night. If that’s you, try meditating before bed. Following a guided meditation to calm your mind can make it easier to fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality.
On the Casper Sleep Channel, we have a large selection of guided meditations you can listen to to help you drift off.
If meditation isn’t your thing, you can also try reading, journaling, or listening to calming music to help calm your thoughts at bedtime.
If you’ve improved your sleep hygiene but you still have a restless body at night, visit your doctor. They can help you identify any underlying conditions or sleep disorders that need to be addressed and will help you set the best course of action to better sleep.
Finally, craft your perfect sleep setup to get the most out of each night’s rest. Those who are extremely satisfied with their mattress are more than four times as likely to report high-quality sleep.
Your bed should be a comforting getaway from the stresses of life. That starts with a fluffy pillow, soft bedding, and a heavenly mattress. Creating a bed that’s comfy as a cloud will have you sleeping tight in no time.
Casper blog articles are written by skilled authors and periodically reviewed by our team of sleep experts at Casper Labs. Driven by comprehensive research and evidence-based practices, we ensure that the content we publish is reliable, actionable, and practical for enhancing sleep quality and wellness.
Our articles incorporate trusted third-party sources, cited within the content and listed at the end for easy reference. At Casper we strive to be an authority and trusted resource for all things sleep.