Why Do I Move So Much in My Sleep? The Causes and Treatment of Sleep Movement Disorder

woman lying on floor restless legs

Why Do I Move So Much in My Sleep?

Do you move around a lot in your sleep? You’re not alone. In fact, it’s quite common.

According to statistics, as many as 30% of adults say they have experienced sleep movement disorder at some point in their lives.

So why do people move around so much in their sleep? Let’s take a look at the causes and treatment of sleep movement disorders.

Why do i roll around in my sleep so much?

Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling stiff and sore and wondered why you rolled around so much during the night? It turns out that rolling over in bed is something we take for granted, yet it appears we know very little about this basic human movement.

Babies roll

According to Dr Harriet Hiscock, a paediatric sleep specialist at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, babies start to roll at about four months as it is a developmental milestone and an innate drive for them to learn to roll so they can get on all fours and start to crawl.

For adults and children, Dr Hiscock believes that rolling over during sleep is simply a matter of getting comfortable and avoiding stiff joints and skin problems that come from lying in the same position all night.

When we are in deep non-REM sleep, the brain has mini ‘arousals’ every six to eight minutes when the sleeper becomes more awake and often this is associated with body movement, such as rolling over.

Men, in particular, move more than women when they have an arousal due to evolutionary reasons – men were the protectors, so they would need to be ready to fight off an intruder. These arousals act as a protective mechanism, alerting us to our environment.

So, the next time you find yourself rolling around in your sleep, take comfort in the knowledge that it could be normal phenomenon, and that your body is just trying to keep you comfortable and safe.

But what if movements interfere with sleep and make it difficult to get sufficient, good quality rest and sleep?

What is sleep movement disorder?

Sleep movement disorder is a category of sleep disorder in which repetitive movements interfere with sleep. These movements are usually simple, like a quick jerk or twitch, which differ from more complex movements seen in parasomnias, like sleepwalking and night terrors.

Sleep movement disorders can affect a person’s ability to fall asleep fast, to sleep longer and rest. Bad quality sleep can lead to daytime consequences such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

What are the causes of sleep movement disorder?

1. Neurological Disorders

Sleep movement disorders are a category of neurological disorders that can cause disruptive, abnormal movements, emotions, talk, and actions while asleep, even though the individual may appear to be awake. These sleep disorders can have a range of neurological causes, ranging from genetic factors to hormonal imbalances, neurological abnormalities, autoimmune factors and even environmental factors.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects sleep by lesions in the brain which directly interfere with regulating sleep.

The most common causes of sleep movement disorders include

  • genetic predisposition,
  • hormonal imbalance,
  • certain medications,
  • mental health conditions,
  • alcohol and drug abuse,
  • sleep deprivation.

In some cases, the cause may be unknown.

2. Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are medical conditions that negatively affect sleep and cause daytime symptoms. They can disrupt when a person is able to fall asleep, how much sleep they get, and the quality of their sleep. The American Academy for Sleep Medicine’s International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3) recognizes 60 sleep disorders, divided into seven categories:

  1. insomnia,
  2. sleep-related breathing disorders,
  3. circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders,
  4. central disorders of hypersomnolence,
  5. parasomnias,
  6. sleep-related movement disorders,
  7. and other sleep disorders.

The causes of sleep disorders vary and can include a combination of risk factors such as stress, medication use, physical or mental health conditions, and lifestyle choices.

3. Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are two of the most common causes that contribute to sleep movement disorder.

  • Stress can cause both physical and mental symptoms that make falling asleep at night more difficult. A 2017 study found that higher stress levels were associated with poorer sleep quality in medical students.
  • Anxiety can also make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, as it can cause an anxious, racing mind and restless body, resulting in more tossing and turning.

Traumatic events (PTSD) have also been shown to negatively impact sleep, leading to more sleep movement and disordered sleep. In order to reduce the occurrence of sleep movement disorder, it is important to take steps to reduce stress and anxiety, such as practicing relaxation techniques, turning off electronics an hour before bed, and staying active during the day.

4. Physical Discomfort

Sleep movement disorder can be caused by several physical discomforts, such as

  • restless legs syndrome (RLS),
  • periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD),
  • uncomfortable sensations like tingling, burning or throbbing in the legs, and symptoms that worsen at night and are mostly gone in the morning.

Other physical discomforts that can lead to sleep movement disorder include muscle fatigue, joint pain, muscle spasms, and neuropathy. It is important to consult a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for treating any of these conditions.

When you should sleep with a knee brace on it could be a great help to fall asleep faster if you know how to sleep comfortably. You can even more easier fall asleep with a knee sleeve on, it can also be used to provide support to the knee, without restricting movement.

5. Drug or Alcohol Abuse

The primary causes of sleep movement disorder due to drug or alcohol abuse are: using stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines; drinking alcohol heavily; taking certain medications; suffering from mental health issues; and having a hereditary predisposition.

Other contributing factors may include lack of adequate sleep, inconsistent bed and wake times, and the use of recreational drugs.

6. Mental Disorders

Sleep movement disorder caused by mental disorders is a type of sleep disorder that occurs when a person experiences abnormal movements, talk, emotions and actions while sleeping, although their bed partner may think they are awake.

This type of disorder is caused by underlying medical conditions, mental health conditions, medications, substances, genetics, and environmental stressors. The effects of this disorder can include difficulty in falling asleep, waking during the night, or waking up too early, diminished quality of life, and an increased risk of developing other health issues.

7. Aging

Aging can negatively impact sleep in many ways, leading to more sleep movement and disordered sleep. As people age, their bodies naturally produce less of the hormones associated with sleep, making it harder to maintain regular sleep patterns.

Older individuals are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can lead to difficulty falling asleep and more tossing and turning. Research also suggests that poor sleep might be tied to decreased skin elasticity and reduced blood flow to the skin.

8. Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are a group of conditions that affect the development of the brain and nervous system. These include conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disabilities.

These conditions can be caused by a variety of factors including genetic and environmental influences, as well as lifestyle choices and health issues. Genetic factors such as inherited genes and chromosomal abnormalities can affect brain development and can lead to these conditions. Environmental factors such as prenatal exposure to toxins, maternal health, and social influences can also play a role in the development of these conditions.

What are the symptoms of sleep movement disorder?

1. Restless Sleep

The symptoms of restless sleep movement disorder vary among individuals, but the most common symptoms include

  • frequent movement during sleep,
  • light sleep,
  • awakenings,
  • position changes
  • uncomfortable sensations in the legs, an urge to move them for relief,
  • partial or total blockage in breathing and snorting or gasping when breathing resumes,
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep,
  • sleep apnea.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) can also cause symptoms such as an uncomfortable sensation in the legs, an urge to move them for relief, and repetitive limb movement during sleep.

2. Uncontrollable Movements

The symptoms of uncontrollable movements in sleep can vary from person to person depending on the type of movement disorder they are experiencing. Generally, people will experience increased movements before and/or during sleep, such as restless legs, twitching, jerking, or flailing limbs.

In more extreme cases, people may also exhibit sleepwalking and other exaggerated behaviors. In addition to the physical movements, people with sleep-related movement disorders may also experience fragmented sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and excessive daytime fatigue. It is important to note that safety measures, like door alarms, may need to be considered if people are at risk of sleepwalking.

3. Difficulty Falling or Staying Asleep

The symptoms of difficulty falling or staying asleep associated with sleep movement disorder can include:

  • trouble falling asleep,
  • waking up often during the night,
  • sleeping at inappropriate times,
  • daytime fatigue or sleepiness,
  • changes in mood, attention, motivation, or concentration,
  • accidents and mistakes,
  • auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations,
  • sudden weakness in the muscles,
  • feeling unable to move immediately after waking up,
  • an anxious, racing mind,
  • tense muscles due to stress.

4. Feeling Awake While Falling Asleep

The symptoms of feeling awake while falling asleep can include hypnic (or hypnagogic) or myoclonic jerks, a sudden startle or feeling like you are falling, rapid eye movements, vivid dreaming, nightmares, recurrent isolated sleep paralysis, REM sleep behavior disorder, exploding head syndrome, sleep enuresis, and sleep-related hallucinations.

Try to hang a dreamcatcher in your bedroom, they are commonly placed above the bed to catch and filter out dreams or nightmares.

These symptoms may cause feelings of fear, terror, and/or anxiety, as well as a sense of threat to your survival or security. They can also be distressing and cause difficulty in falling back to sleep. Learn more about how to fall asleep faster.

5. Feeling Unrested After Nighttime Sleep

The symptoms of feeling unrested after nighttime sleep can include

  • fatigue and difficulty concentrating during the day,
  • difficulty falling asleep and waking up frequently throughout the night,
  • feeling overly tired during the day,
  • feeling like you need to take a nap often,

going to bed either too late or too early. It is important to speak with a doctor if you are consistently feeling unrested after sleep, as these may be signs of an underlying medical condition or health issue.

6. Loss of Concentration

The symptoms of loss of concentration associated with a sleep movement disorder can vary, but common ones include difficulty falling asleep, waking up often during the night, sleeping at inappropriate times, nodding off when reading or in front of the TV.

Other more extreme examples include sleepwalking, which can involve accidentally walking out of the house, and Kleine-Levin Syndrome, which involves periods of intense sleepiness with changes in thoughts, feelings, or behavior, lasting anywhere from two days to five weeks.

Poor quality sleep can also interfere with the immune system, leading to more colds.

7. Experiencing Physical Pain

The symptoms of experiencing physical pain with sleep movement disorder can include difficulty sleeping through the night, waking up confused or disoriented, waking up with numbness in hand, being tired during the day, finding cuts and bruises on your body for which you don’t remember the cause, and displaying movements, expressions, vocalizations, or activities (as told to you by your bed partner) that you don’t remember.

People with sleep movement disorder may experience difficulty taking deep breaths, as if their chest is being crushed or restricted, a sensation that there is someone or something in the room with them (hallucination), and feelings of fear and anxiety. Episodes of sleep movement disorder can last for a few seconds to several minutes.

What treatments are available for sleep movement disorder?

Treatments for sleep movement disorder may include cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), positive airway pressure therapy, bright light therapy, oral devices, surgery, medications, and sleep hygiene.

Medications used to manage non-REM sleep disorders may include benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants, along with psychological approaches such as hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy.

For REM sleep disorders, medications such as clonazepam and melatonin are commonly used.

Exercise can help to manage restless leg syndrome or insomnia when done in moderation early in the day.

neck pain with weighted blanket
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How is sleep movement disorder diagnosed?

Step 1: A doctor will start by reviewing a person’s symptoms and medical history, asking about medications and other substances, and conducting a physical exam.

Step 2: Fill out specially designed forms to measure sleepiness, fatigue, and other symptoms.

Step 3: Keep a sleep journal or sleep log over several weeks to identify trends or changes.

Step 4: Use an accelerometer to measure movement during the day and night.

Step 5: Conduct a sleep study using devices to monitor and collect data about various body functions during sleep.

Step 6: Take a multiple sleep latency test to assess how long it takes to fall asleep and the amount of time spent in each phase of sleep.

What lifestyle changes can I make to help reduce sleep movement disorder?

  1. Ensure seven to nine hours of sleep a night and keep consistent bedtime and wakeup times.
  2. Limit alcohol and recreational drug use.
  3. Talk to your doctor about medications that could be affecting your sleep quality, such as certain antidepressants and antihistamines.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable; cool, dark, and quiet.
  5. Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime.
  6. Relax and wind down before bed with activities like reading, writing in a journal, or doing yoga.
  7. Exercise regularly during the day.
  8. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime.
  9. Avoid large naps during the day. Maximum nap length should be less than 26 minutes.
  10. Keep a consistent sleep schedule on weekends.

How can I ensure my safety if I have sleep movement disorder?

If you have been diagnosed with a sleep-related movement disorder, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your safety.

  1. Talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider about treatment options. Depending on the type of disorder you have, you may be able to manage your symptoms with medication or lifestyle changes.
  2. Make sure your bedroom is free of hazards that could be tripped over or bumped into in the night. This includes furniture, cords, and other obstacles that could cause injury or discomfort. If possible, try to create a clutter-free sleep environment.
  3. Consider investing in a bed that is designed to limit movement and provide better support. If you are prone to sleep-related movements, a firmer mattress may help reduce the amount of motion you experience at night.
  4. Wear loose-fitting clothing that is comfortable and won’t restrict your movements. Avoid tight-fitting clothing or clothing with any buttons, zippers, or laces.
  5. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, before bed.

Is it normal to move a lot in your sleep?

Yes, it is normal to move a lot in your sleep. According to doctor sleep expert Perminder S. Sachdev, MD, PhD, the average sleeper moves 40 to 50 times per night.

However, some people may move more than 100 times per hour. Moving during sleep is normal in many cases and seen across many ages, from infants to teens. However, very restless sleep, or anything that seems off to a parent, may indicate a potential health issue.

How do I stop moving as much in my sleep?

  1. Schedule and stick to a sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle.
  2. Dim or turn off electronics: Bright lights and blue light from electronics can disrupt your sleep cycle. The most sleepy color is amberas it is warm and rich and extremely calming.
  3. Create a calming environment: Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet.
  4. Exercise regularly: Exercise can help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. Try to get in some deep pressure physical activity at least 3-4 times a week.
  5. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol: Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can make it harder to fall asleep, so try to avoid them in the afternoon and evening. Alcohol may help you get to sleep, but it can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
  6. Relax your mind and body: Take time before bed to do calming activities like reading, listening to soothing music, or practicing meditation or yoga.
  7. Try to sleep with a weighted blanket. Do not use too heavy blanket as it may be too much in the beginning but gradually you may increase the weight of the blanket.
Categorized as RLS

By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.