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By Sarah Regan / April 28, 2021
Most of us move around in our sleep to some degree, but there are some who toss and turn excessively. Whether you’re tipped off by a wearable sleep tracker or a (somewhat annoyed) partner who has let you know you’re kicking them every night, you might be wondering if your nighttime movement is a cause for concern. Here’s what to know about moving around while sleeping, from an expert.
What it means to move around in your sleep.
According to doctor of chiropractic and functional medicine expert Stacie Stephenson, D.C., CNS, it’s perfectly normal to move while sleeping.
In fact, she notes, the average sleeper moves 40 to 50 times per night. When we’re sleep-deprived, we may move less, but under normal circumstances, she adds, we’re naturally more active during stage 1 or light sleep, as well as REM sleep, than we are in other sleep stages.
That said, moving in certain ways can be a sign of a problem. Specific types of sleep movements, such as restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder, Stephenson explains, are linked with stress, depression, lifestyle factors like too much caffeine, and even certain health conditions, from diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea to ADHD, PTSD, and frequent nightmares.
“We know that these sleep disorders, if not the movements themselves, are associated with lower-quality sleep,” Stephenson tells mbg, “but if you feel well-rested during the day, you likely do not have a problem.”
Now, if you’re nodding off in the middle of the day or feel you could always use a nap, “that is an indication you might not be getting enough sleep or that your sleep quality is suffering,” she adds.
Long story short: If you’re frequently fatigued and struggle with tossing and turning or restless limbs, “There might be a connection, and it might be time to do something about it.”
How to ensure you’re sleeping steadily.
If you’re concerned about the amount you move at night, Stephenson offers a few approaches to make sure you’re getting quality sleep and limiting the tossing and turning:
1. Exercise earlier in the day.
If you’re a fan of a good evening workout, the bad news is this can lead to a very energized body that’s not ready to wind down. “One thing you can try to rest more quietly and get better-quality sleep is to move your exercise to earlier in the day,” Stephenson says—particularly if you’re dealing with RLS.
2. Clean up your diet, and incorporate supplements.
Our diet tremendously affects how well we sleep, and Stephenson notes one that is lower in salt, sugar, and caffeine—and higher in vitamin B12, iron, folate, and magnesium—may help here. “Increase whole foods, especially vegetables, and get rid of junk food. You may find your sleep movements quiet down significantly,” she says. And in the case of RLS, she adds that it’s associated with iron deficiency, so talk to your doc about giving that a try.
3. Improve your sleep hygiene.
We can’t talk about getting better sleep without mentioning overall sleep hygiene. Things like starting to wind down an hour or two before bed, doing nonstimulating activities, and dimming the lights in your home are just a few ways to improve your sleep routine, Stephenson notes. Reduce screen time before bed, and keep your bedroom as clean, cool, and dark as possible, she adds, to help yourself achieve a sounder sleep.
4. Ditch the afternoon cup of coffee.
Have you ever considered that your caffeine intake might actually turn into a cyclical problem whereby it negatively affects your sleep, only for you to need more caffeine the next day?
Stephenson recommends ditching the caffeine after noon, or at most 3 p.m., to help you sleep more soundly, adding, “many people find after reducing caffeine intake, they sleep so much better they no longer feel the need for that midafternoon cup of coffee.”
5. Look into any medication you’re taking.
And lastly, if you’re on any medication, Stephenson says, it’s worth investigating whether it could be affecting your nighttime movement and sleep quality. Certain antidepressants, and even antihistamines, can affect sleep quality, so if that sounds like it could be happening, she suggests talking to your doctor about other options.
Moving around while sleeping doesn’t necessarily mean you have anything to worry about. We all move around a bit, but if you’re finding yourself tossing and turning throughout the night, and it’s translating into fatigue the next day, it may be worth exploring some options that help you settle in for quality sleep. There’s no question a good night’s rest is a pillar of our overall well-being, and if moving around too much is getting in the way of that, you might want to take action.