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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

7 Potential Restlessness Causes

  1. 1.Premenstrual Syndrome

    Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common condition. PMS has a variety of symptoms including cramping, mood swings, food cravings, fatigue, irritability, breast tenderness & depression.

    Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome can last all the way into menopause.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, anxiety, constipation, depressed mood, breast pain
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual syndrome:
    constant sadness, severe sadness, post-menopausal
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.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, post-menopausal
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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

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  4. 4.Recurrent 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:
    nausea, severe headache, throbbing headache, congestion, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with recurrent cluster headache:
    severe headache
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  5. 5.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Bulimia

    Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder. People suffering from this condition sometimes will eat huge amounts of food, and might take extreme steps such as making themselves vomit to avoid putting on weight.

    With appropriate treatment, recovery is very likely.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, irritability, stomach bloating, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with bulimia:
    vomiting after binge eating
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Idiopathic Hypersomnia

    Idiopathic hypersomnia is a disorder with no known cause that causes excessive sleepiness.

    This is often a chronic condition but medication and lifestyle improvements may be beneficial

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    impaired social or occupational functioning, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, irritability, daytime sleepiness
    Symptoms that always occur with idiopathic hypersomnia:
    daytime sleepiness, impaired social or occupational functioning
    Symptoms that never occur with idiopathic hypersomnia:
    sleep duration less than 7 hours, nausea or vomiting, spontaneous loss of muscle control
    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. 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.

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.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?
  • Q.Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?

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
    • 14% Anxiety
    • 12% Restless Legs
  • People who have experienced restlessness were most often matched with:

    • 9% Premenstrual Syndrome
    • 5% Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

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