Read below about restlessness, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your restlessness from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Restlessness Symptoms

You're lying in bed, exhausted from a full day of work, but you just can't get to sleep. While this is a classic scenario of restlessness, there is a wide array of symptoms that one might describe as feeling "restless". Restlessness is often described as either a feeling of needing to constantly move, an inability to calm the mind, or a combination of the two.

Those experiencing motor restlessness often feel as though they have cramps in their arms or legs whenever they're not moving, or alternatively they may have difficulty sitting still while at work or relaxing at home. Others may experience mental restlessness and instead have difficulty accomplishing tasks, managing time, or falling asleep at night. Even beyond these typical descriptions of restlessness, there's a wide variety of symptoms could be associated with restlessness.

Restlessness symptoms include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Unpleasant sensations/cramps in the arms or legs when sitting or lying down
  • Palpitations
  • Agitation
  • Tapping of feet or hands
  • Difficulty with focusing, organizing, or managing time
  • Insomnia
  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility

Restlessness Causes Overview

Restlessness encompasses a vast array of symptoms and can be caused by many different underlying issues. The major causes of restlessness include medication side effects, supplement/caffeine use, psychiatric disorders, neurologic conditions, and endocrine disorders.

Pharmacologic or supplement-associated restlessness causes:

  • Supplements: Excessive caffeine use is one of the most common causes of restlessness and can be either due to drinking caffeinated beverages, eating caffeine-containing foods (e.g. chocolate), or using caffeine-containing supplements [1].
  • Medications: Certain medications (e.g. certain asthma medications, certain ADD/ADHD medications) have a potent stimulant effect and may cause restlessness. Additionally, initiating or changing the dose of some medications used to treat schizophrenia or Parkinson's disease can cause restlessness. Lastly, stopping use of certain sedative medications, such as benzodiazepines, will frequently cause restlessness.

Endocrine restlessness causes:

  • The most common endocrine cause of restlessness is hyperthyroidism, which is often accompanied by weight loss, heat intolerance, and heart palpitations [2].
  • Hypoparathyroidism, while rare, can also lead to restlessness and is typically accompanied by numbness around the mouth, tingling of the hands and feet, muscle cramps, and anxiety.

Neurologic and psychiatric restlessness causes:

  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): RLS is a very common cause of restlessness. Those with RLS often experience an uncomfortable urge to move the legs, especially when lying in bed. There are many causes of RLS, including low iron stores, peripheral neuropathy, and pregnancy.
  • Psychiatric causes: Restlessness can be associated with an array of psychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Additionally, certain medications used to treat schizophrenia (e.g. haloperidol, fluphenazine), can cause restlessness characterized by either constant pacing, arm movement, or a persistent urge to move [3].
  • Other Neurologic causes: In certain very rare cases, restlessness can be a symptom of an underlying neurologic condition that affects motor control, such as Wilson's Disease. Such conditions are exceedingly rare [4].

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Restlessness

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced restlessness. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Restless Legs Syndrome (Rls)

    Restless Legs Syndrome is a common condition characterized by an urge to move the legs in order to stop unpleasant sensations.

    RLS is a chronic and incurable condition, but many have their symptoms improve with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    daytime sleepiness, trouble sleeping, tingling lower leg, restless legs, difficulty falling asleep
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Overactive Thyroid

    The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just above your collarbone. It is one of your endocrine glands, which make hormones. Thyroid glands control how fast one burns calories and how fast the heart beats. If the thyroid is too active, it makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs. This is called hyperthyroidism.

    Great prognosis with high remission rates

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, anxiety, depressed mood, irritability, trouble sleeping
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

    Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is a condition that occurs 5-11 days before menstruation that causes depression-like symptoms, where you have depression-like symptoms, irritability, and tension.

    Symptoms of premenstrual dysmorphic disorder can be managed with a healthy lifestyle. In severe cases, antidepressants may be useful.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, anxiety, depressed mood, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Symptoms that always occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning, symptoms of depression, anxiety and emotional lability
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
    constant sadness, disapearance of periods for over a year
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Mild Bipolar Disorder i

    Bipolar disorder, which is sometimes called bipolar affective disorder, is a mental condition where a person's mood swings between two extremes. One extreme is called depression, where people feel low, sad, and blue. The other extreme is called mania, where people feel high, elated, overjoyed, and are full of energy.

    Bipolar disorder I is a chronic (lifelong) mental illness.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with mild bipolar disorder i:
    periods of feeling very energetic and needing little sleep
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Borderline Personality Disorder

    Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness characterized by troubled interpersonal relationships and unstable moods.

    While this is historically a difficult disease to treat, modern advancements provide symptom relief and improved quality of life.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    frequent mood swings, impaired social or occupational functioning, aggression, history of deliberate self-harm, anger or irritability between temper outbursts
    Symptoms that always occur with borderline personality disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Cluster Headache

    A cluster headache is a type of recurring headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks can occur regularly for 1 week and up to 1 year. Each period of attacks (i.e. each cluster) is separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Other common headaches may also occur during these cluster-free periods.

    Each attack can last from 15 min to 3 hours and occurs from once every other day up to 8 times per day. Cluster periods usually resolve in a few weeks to months but can last up to a year.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    severe headache, nausea, throbbing headache, history of headaches, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache:
    severe headache
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Depression

    Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with depression:
    depressed mood
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Restlessness Treatments and Relief

Restlessness can be caused by a broad range of things, some of which could potentially require a physician's treatment.

You should head to the emergency room if:

  • You feel like your heart is racing or beating irregularly
  • You experience persistent numbness or loss of sensation lasting longer than a few minutes
  • You're having difficulty catching your breath
  • You're confused, having difficulty seeing, or experiencing any auditory or visual hallucinations

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You notice a marked inability to focus on tasks for a prolonged time
  • You experience any limb tremors
  • Your restlessness interferes with your ability to sleep or work
  • You think a change in your medications may be causing difficulty focusing, sitting still, or falling asleep at night

Sometimes you can try a few things at home before seeking medical attention for restlessness:

  • Try reducing caffeine: Consider backing off on the number of cups of coffee, tea, or soda you consume per day. Alternatively, if you have difficulty falling asleep, try abstaining from caffeine after a certain time of day.
  • Exercise: Exercise helps prevent many common conditions, but it also improves cognition and focus while reducing stress and anxiety [5]. Try incorporating regular exercise into your routine to see if it improves your symptoms.
  • Never stop taking or adjust medication doses without asking your doctor. It is possible that a side effect of your medication could be causing your restlessness, but make sure to call your doctor and ask for their advice before making any changes.

FAQs About Restlessness

Here are some frequently asked questions about restlessness.

Why do I feel restless at night?

Restlessness at night is commonly caused by poor sleep hygiene and anxiety is often caused by life events. Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviors that involves abstaining from substances like nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine before sleeping as well as avoiding using blue-light emitting screens like phones, laptops, or tablets. It is also useful to exercise more than two hours before sleeping, and to sleep and wake at the same time every day [6].

Can anxiety cause restlessness?

Yes, anxiety can cause restlessness. It is common when anxious about life events to feel unsettled and have decreased ability to focus because of intrusion of worrisome thoughts. It is often beneficial to seek help in the form of an activity that allows one to safely release these anxieties. Speaking with a trusted medical, religious, or psychiatric counselor can help decrease anxiety.

How do I stop tossing and turning in my sleep?

The first step to preventing tossing and turning during sleep is to determine the cause of poor sleep quality. There are many different techniques to improve sleep quality. One of the most common and most effective is altering one's behavior to improve "sleep hygiene." This involves creating a regular sleep and wake time, avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol within a few hours of sleep, keeping a cool sleep environment, and restricting the use of screens before rest.

Why do I feel restless all the time?

Constant restlessness can be a sign of many different conditions. Many psychological conditions, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, general anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder can result in frequent or constant restlessness. It can also occur following life events, new medications, or even changes in diet or consumption of caffeine or sugar.

What causes restlessness during sleep?

Commonly, life events or being particularly worried about events occurring soon can cause restlessness during sleep. If you are experiencing restlessness and find yourself preoccupied with a particular thought, this event may be causing your restlessness. Alternatively, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can also cause increased restlessness. Finally, lack of sleep can also cause restlessness.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Restlessness

  • Q.Is one of your eyelids drooping like in this picture? This is called ptosis.
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Have you ever forced yourself to vomit after eating?
  • Q.Are you sleepy during the day?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our restlessness symptom checker to find out more.

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Restlessness Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced restlessness have also experienced:

    • 16% Trouble Sleeping
    • 15% Anxiety
    • 12% Restless Legs
  • People who have experienced restlessness were most often matched with:

    • 33% Restless Legs Syndrome (Rls)
    • 33% Overactive Thyroid
    • 33% Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Lutz EG. Restless Legs, Anxiety and Caffeinism. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 1978;39(9):693-698. NCBI Link.
  2. Pereira JC, Pradella-Hallinan M, Lins Pessoa Hd. Imbalance Between Thyroid Hormones and the Dopaminergic System Might Be Central to the Pathophysiology of Restless Legs Syndrome: A Hypothesis. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2010;65(5):548-554. NCBI Link.
  3. Kallweit U, Werth E, Seiz A, et al. Psychiatric Comorbidities in Restless Legs Syndrome. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 2016;28(3):239-242. Psychiatry Online Link.
  4. Wilson Disease. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Updated 2018. NORD Link.
  5. Jayakody K, Gunadasa S, Hosker C. Exercise for Anxiety Disorders: Systematic Review. British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM). 2014;48(3):187-196. NCBI Link.
  6. Irish LA, Kline CE, Gunn HE, Buysse DJ, Hall MH. The Role of Sleep Hygiene in Promoting Public Health: A Review of Empirical Evidence. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2014;22:23-36. NCBI Link.