5 Reasons You Might Be a Restless Sleeper

When you look at your personal data in your Fitbit app, you might be surprised to see several periods of restless sleep during the night. Chances are, you don’t have to worry about them—it’s common to move around a bit. “Sleep is not completely still,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, a Fitbit sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “It’s perfectly normal to have periods of restlessness—10 or even up to 30 could be normal for you,” he says. (Here’s when restlessness might be more concerning.)

Still, when restlessness leads to full on wakefulness, it’s time to get to the bottom of what’s preventing you from sleeping like a log. These five factors might be turning you into a restless sleeper.

Here’s Why You Might Be a Restless Sleeper

You’re binge watching before bed. It might seem obvious that turning off the overhead lights sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to settle down, but have you given any thought to your devices? The blue light emitted by certain TVs and some tablets have been shown to suppress sleep-inducing hormones. And if you’re viewing an especially violent episode, one study reports the movie or program you’re watching could lead to trouble falling asleep and nightmares. Create a nightly wind-down ritual about 30 minutes before you hit the sack, power down the electronics, and give your brain time to process all the on-screen drama so you can ease into sleep.

Your bedding isn’t working for you. If you have a hard time getting comfortable, or tend to toss and turn, unsupportive bedding could be coming between you and a solid night’s sleep. In fact, 98% percent of respondents polled by the National Sleep Foundation agree a comfortable pillow is necessary for a restful night. Think yours might be past its prime? A general replacement guideline for pillows is every three years, and every 10 years for mattresses.

You drank too much. Alcohol can impact your sleep cycle—it causes you to feel drowsy initially, then leads to wake ups later as it’s processed by your body. But other liquids can be problematic, too. “If you’re drinking a lot of water before going to bed, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to wake up to use the bathroom at some point during the night,” says Grandner.

You’re overheating. Snuggling into a pile of blankets might seem cozy, but if they’re making you too warm it’s likely they’re also causing restlessness. Turns out cooler temps are more ideal for sleep—a study published in the scientific journal Brain shows a drop in your core temperature triggers “It’s sleepy time!” messages in your body, easing you into slumber and helping you sleep more soundly. Set the thermostat to between 65 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. And if you can’t give up those blankies, go even lower (around 60.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and opt for sheets and pajamas made from natural fabrics to prevent trapping in any extra heat.  

Your bed mate is bothering you. Even if you don’t remember waking up from their sounds or movement, your partner’s snoring or tossing and turning could be causing you to have periods of restlessness. It’s important to let your partner know about his or her chronic snoring—it could be the sign of a serious health issue and should be discussed with a physician. And if the nighttime noises are frequently keeping you up, you might want to work out an alternative arrangement, like sleeping in separate rooms.

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  • My snoring seems to get worse as commented by my wife. Is there anything I can do to reduce the snoring so that it will not cause much inconvenience to my partner?

    • Hi Minh,
      I’m in the same boat as you. Have you considered buying her ear plugs? I got these purple ones from Dripft to Sleep off Amazon and they have done wonders!!!

      • My husbands snoring is preventing me from getting to sleep. He goes to bed before me. Thanks for the tip about the ear plugs.

    • My siblings were diagnosed with sleep apnea, now have apperatus that completely eliminates snoring and results in better night’s sleep for all.

    • I lost three stone and apparently stopped snoring. However the diet regime I used was too severe.
      I would advise researching ketogenic diets combined with intermittent fasting. Eat and drink very lightly if at all after 6pm. Your circadian rhythm changes as night falls, so your body focuses on detoxification, repair and renewal of cells and their structures. Your network of mitochondria (cell batteries) should not be “fizzing” with energy from eating at this phase, due to the number of free radicals they produce when in this state.
      Simply cutting food intake and exercising more fails to produce sustainable weight loss. We lose mitochondria when we starve ourselves, so our metabolic rate drops, but these are not easy to biosynthesis. Science now shows there is a very important connection between the DNA in our mitochondria and the main cell nucleus that is vital for good gene expression and hence your metabolic outcome – how healthy you are.

  • I had to get up to let the dogs out and back in this is typical. Plus I drink a lot of water so I find my self having to go a couple times at night. Overall I feel good.

    • I know for a fact I was up most of the night not sleeping. I’m sick and can barely breathe. I bet I got up to 2 hours of solid sleep. I bought a Fitbit last night was my first night wearing it. It said I got almost 8 hours, that is incorrect, so it only records when your arm moves? I know I was still most of the night.

  • I do not move when I am in bed because I have a lot of pain. I listen to books on cd. Fitbit said I was sleeping. Is this usual?

    • I’m in the same boat as you. I think it only records when you move, so you and I since we are still at night due to pain, this device is inaccurate for us. I’m bummed, I just bought this yesterday.

    • There is a sleep insight section which tells you how many times you were restless and how many times you were awake. (It would be helpful if it showed on the graph though)

      To see this section you have to hold your phone in portrait position while viewing your sleep graph and tap the double ended arrow in the top right corner.
      Hope I have explained correctly – maybe a moderator could explain properly.
      My graphs said I slept for 8hrs and 4 mins solid (but I knew I was awake and wrestles. Sure enough my sleep insights section showed I had woken 6 times and was wrestles for 14 times. All very interesting.

    • Sorry I just found the Sleep Stages section. It’s at the very bottom of the screen when you go into “how did I sleep”. Wow it really is broken down. – great gadget.

  • I wake up in the night to eat chocolate. I find the more stressed I am the more I eat at night. Ironically during the day I never comport eat I do the opposite. I can’t eat when I’m stressed in awake hours.

    • Your cortisol levels are rising as you sleep, which arises from a drop in your blood sugar levels and wake you up. Cortisol drives out melatonin the sleep hormone – they oppose each other.
      I would examine your stress levels ( also generates cortisol) and try to address those, but also move your diet away from carbs and sugars, which are probably dominant. We evolved to burn fats not sugars. Our hunter gatherer cousins very rarely came across carbs (summer and autumn occasionally).
      See if your doctor can conduct an Adrenal stress test for you – 4 samples of saliva taken and stored separately throughout the day from specific times. This produces a chart of your cortisol production which should be high in the morning and low at night.

  • I just bought a Fitbit blaze and I’m not sure how the heart rate works, I’m scare that my heart beats are to low or to high can some one please help me figuring this out…?

  • Used my new Fitbit Alta HR for the first time last night. I was up twice and tossed and turned all night but this morning the report said I had 0x awake and 0x restless. Why would it have those results when I was awake and very restless? Thanks.

  • I had a total hip replacement surgery May 15, so sleeplessness is expected. However I have experienced this for several years due to health issues, restless leg syndrome. Doctors prescribe medications but I opt out for TylenolPM and gabapentin. Fitbit is helping me cope with my restlessness better understanding to good health. I don’t eat five hours before bed and have a cup of chamomile tea before bed. As we age sleep is more challenging for me. Any advice would be helpful.

    • Restless legs could also be vascular vein issues. I had the same thing and went in and got checked…I had vein issues and got treated. No restlessness anymore.

  • First day of Fitbit – I am about 125 overweight and I am 62 yrs. old and by 8:30 pm
    I have over 11,000 steps and slept 3 hrs and 21 minutes .

  • I’m amazed not to see “your bladder wakes you up” as a reason for why one might be a restless sleeper, especially for us baby boomer generation women! However much or little I drink in the evening, I can’t seem to avoid at least two visits to the loo during the night. I don’t usually have trouble falling asleep again, but my fitbit shows the red “awake” periods very clearly.

  • Is there any hope for us shift workers ?
    Earlies I’m up at 3.30,
    Then still wake up at that time when I’m lates…. nights…forget sleep all together I do 7 on the trot then back on to earlies. Zombie like for at least two weeks…..

  • Restless number high. Today 73 restless abt 6 hrs sleep. Went to gym several hrs before, 1 hr workout. High #s happen occasionally. Eat and drink before 6 pm. Go to bed btwn 9 – 10. What else can I do?

  • High restless numbers in the 70s. Exercise regularly, eat drink several hrs before bed, go to bed btwn 9-10, not much caffeine, usually get btwn 5 – 7 hrs sleep. What else can I do?

  • If I go to bed between 9:00 PM ~ 11:00 PM (earlier is better) I can sleep very easily. But unfortunately My Bed Mates are Mosquitoes … I cannot sleep because of these invaders even though I feel too much sleepy… I tried every thing available – nothing works… But if I go to bed after 11:00 PM it will become very tough to get a good night sleep till I see the morning light.

  • But Mad Men is awesome in Netfix! Thanks for the article. Never would have thought it but maybe this is why I get 4 hours a night. Thanks again.

    • thanks! this article really helped me sleep i usually take about 3 hours just to get my brain calm even without technology is there a reason why? though im very proud of how much sleep im getting these days compering my now a days sleep to my old days sleep is a huge improvement thanks again

  • The problem is our smartphones. We keep on scrolling Instagram, Snapchat and what not for no reason which decreases the level of malotinin (sleep hormone) in body leading no sleep.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Hi
    Just did my first sleep log and it says I had 0 wake ups etc where I know I got up once in the night. Do you know why this wasn’t logged?

  • Not sure about how much I trust the accuracy of the Fitbit. It says I woke up four times. I know I got up to go to the bathroom seven times. I was awake each time. I wonder why it didn’t record that? So I am not confident in the recorded results.

  • Used my Fitbit for first time. Says I had over 8 hours sleep with 4 wake up and 13 restless periods. I have no idea how to improve this. Have tried most of the advice seen on here with no success.

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