young woman asleep in her bed, spread across and uncovered. She had a restless night's sleep
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7 ways to identify restless sleep and improve sleep quality with Evidation

March 6, 2024
5 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
Sleep wellness strategies
Health tips

If falling asleep has ever been difficult for you, or you find yourself tossing and turning a lot when you're sleeping, you're no stranger to restless sleep. And you're not alone. In fact, a study conducted by the American Sleep Apnea Association revealed that 11% of American adults report having poor sleep every night. Also, a whopping 70% of people report having restless sleep at least one night every month.

Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of not feeling rested the next day. Prolonged restless sleep has an effect on nearly every area of a person's life. For example, if you're waking up several times every night, it can make driving dangerous or affect your mood.

The key to getting more restful sleep is to first identify the underlying cause of your sleeplessness. It could be a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, but lifestyle changes and careful monitoring of your sleep health can also help you get better sleep. The good news is there are solutions out there for you if you're living with restless sleep.

What is restless sleep?

While waking up a couple of times during the night is normal for many people, tossing and turning all night long isn't something people with good sleep health normally do. There isn't a specific clinical definition for restless sleep because it's subjective. Generally, restless sleep is loosely defined as a pattern of sleep consisting of constant movement, frequent waking up, and difficulty staying asleep all night.

It's important to note that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reports restless sleep isn't a medically recognized sleep disorder at this time. However, some sleep experts are in the early stages of recognizing "restless sleep disorder (RSD)" as a possible new sleep diagnosis for teens and children.

How restless sleep can affect your routine

Regardless of an official definition, restless sleep can have a significant impact on a person's life. A person who experiences restless sleep may find their energy ebbing and flowing during the day. A lack of restful sleep will make most people feel lethargic during the day, especially if it becomes a regular problem.

If you're tired during the day, it's usually challenging to complete your to-do list or all you want to accomplish. Equally important, many people who experience restless sleep the night before find their moods affected during the day. This has the ability to impact relationships, whether at work or with your family. You may also experience:

  • Falling asleep when driving
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Experiencing response time issues
  • Memory problems
  • Unexplained mood changes

Restless sleep also significantly impacts our cognitive functions. When we don't have good sleep health, our memory can feel impaired, we may make poor decisions, and our creativity can suffer.

Long-term restless sleep can also cause or aggravate any of these conditions:

  • Chronic pain
  • Weakened immune system
  • Nocturia (waking up more than one time a night to go to the bathroom)
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cognitive decline
  • Health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity

Understanding the causes and symptoms of restless sleep

We now have a good understanding of what restless sleep is and how it can impact our lives negatively. So how do you know if your sleeplessness is restless sleep? Restless sleep can be identified by any or all of these five symptoms:

  1. Frequent tossing and turning throughout the night
  2. Waking up often and finding it difficult to quickly go back to sleep
  3. Awakening in the morning without feeling rested
  4. Stirring frequently during sleep because of racing thoughts
  5. Difficulty going to sleep
  6. Difficulty staying asleep all night
  7. Frequently needing a daytime nap

Causes of restless sleep

While there may not be an official medical definition for restless sleep, it's usually possible to pinpoint causes.

Recreational drugs or medications

Any of these medications, substances, or recreational drugs can impact our ability to achieve restless sleep:

  • Stimulant drugs such as amphetamines or psychostimulants
  • Some SSRI antidepressants, including Zoloft and Prozac
  • Water pills (diuretics)
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Anti-inflammatory corticosteroids
  • Beta-agonists and beta-blockers
  • Appetite suppressants
  • Nicotine replacement treatments
  • Decongestants and cold medications
  • Steroids
  • Niacin
  • Medications for Parkinson's disease

Common sleep disorders and their effects

Four of the most common sleep disorders can contribute to or cause restless sleep.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by nighttime breathing challenges. When a person has sleep apnea, they stop breathing while they're sleeping, which can cause snoring or gasping for air.


Perhaps the most commonly known sleep disorder is insomnia, which is the inability to sleep or difficulty sleeping. When a person lives with insomnia, they may experience restless sleep as one of the symptoms.

Restless leg syndrome

Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, restless leg syndrome isn't precisely a sleep disorder. Rather, this condition causes restlessness in the leg, which can contribute to restless sleep. Because restless leg syndrome symptoms worsen at night, it can add to the restlessness people experience.


Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the chemical signaling of the brain. Individuals who live with narcolepsy experience several different symptoms, which can include restless sleep.

Evaluating lifestyle factors impacting sleep quality

If you've eliminated a medical cause for your restless sleep, taking a look at your daily routines and lifestyle may help you identify steps you can take to find better quality sleep.

  • Sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene consists of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, sleeping in a room that's dark and relaxing, and avoiding large meals before bedtime.
  • Anxiety and stress: If you're feeling stress or anxiety, you may have restless sleep.
  • Caffeine and alcoholic beverages: Caffeine consumption late in the day or having too much alcohol at happy hour can affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Irregular sleep schedules: People who follow regular sleep schedules are often less likely to have restless sleep.
  • Late-night screen time: Spending time on a computer or other device late at night can make it harder to drift into a restful sleep.

Utilizing Evidation to analyze and improve sleep patterns

Many things can cause restless sleep, from medications to sleep disorders and lifestyle. Understanding what causes your restless sleep is the first step to getting the quality sleep you deserve.

The next step is monitoring your sleep with analytics and tracking, and Evidation can help. Find out more on the Evidation blog and download the app for personalized insights and help tracking your sleep patterns.

Sleep wellness strategies
Health tips
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