Why Do I Toss and Turn All Night? We Asked an Expert


Joy Richards - September 19, 2019 Hi, I’m Joy - Happy Beds' Sleep Specialist. Aside from Italian food and my three lovely boys, nothing makes me happier than helping our customers find what works for them, and how they can make the most of their forty winks.

Why Do I Toss and Turn All Night? We Asked an Expert

Tossing and turning at night is not uncommon, but it can be extremely frustrating. So, to help you and your family get the rest you deserve, we’ve been chatting to leading sleep expert at Baby Sleep the Night, Karen Brammall, about some of the most common causes and how you can improve your chances of a wriggle-less night.


Why Do We Wriggle in Our Sleep?

Restlessness can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Your diet
  • Your bed is uncomfortable
  • Your room temperature is uncomfortable
  • Your bedroom is too light
  • You have aches or pain
  • You need to use the bathroom
  • You are stressed or anxious
  • You have a condition, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea
  • You are sleeping in an awkward position – such as on your stomach


As Karen told us:

“There are many causes for a bad night’s sleep, sometimes more than one playing a part at a time.

“By far the most likely cause of a restless night for a child is something called a sleep onset association disorder, or SOAD. This is what 95% of the thousands of children I have worked with over the past decade suffer from. The good news is, it is easily fixed and if you carry out the steps to rectify it correctly, it can be solved quickly – usually within a week or two.

“Comfort is essential for a good night’s sleep, whatever age you are, and this can be broken down into several areas. In terms of temperature and environment, some of these things are down to personal preference but, in general, we all sleep far better in darkness due to the hormonal effect that it has on the body. As well as darkness, cooler temperatures also aid these hormonal effects.

“Just like you wouldn’t want to wear scratchy pyjamas, you also wouldn’t want to sleep on a lumpy old mattress either, so comfort in this area is an important factor, and again personal preference between hard and soft beds varies wildly, as does how long they last, dependent on quality.

“With babies though, it is essential to follow the safe sleeping guidelines in place to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and second-hand mattresses are not recommended, no matter how clean and fresh they look.  You should use a firm and flat cot mattress that is protected by a waterproof cover. This will help keep the mattress clean and dry, as the cover can be wiped down. You should also avoid using soft or bulky bedding, pillows, or cot bumpers as they all increase the risk of SIDS.”


How to Get Rid of Restlessness

So, we now know what causes our tossing and turning, but how can we put an end to our restlessness for good. Well, Karen suggests:

“The SOAD condition I mentioned earlier is all due to the way a child falls asleep at the beginning of the night. Sleep is a cyclical process and we all wake several times throughout the night, it’s the normal science of sleep and we won’t ever change that. If a child is reliant on something ‘external’ to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, then when they wake at one of these natural intervals which occur at the end of a sleep cycle, they simply don’t understand how to get back to sleep without the ‘prop’ that they had at the onset of sleep.

“Putting them into their cot or bed wide awake and allowing them to settle themselves to sleep will ultimately solve the problem. It can be met with some objection and it’s easy for parents to second guess themselves during this process; which is where I come in and teach families how to do it once and do it right.

“Adults do this to a degree too, if you rely on watching TV to fall asleep, then you’ll be more restless in the night. So, avoid this kind of stimulation unless you want to be up all night watching it!

“A great bedtime routine is beneficial for children and adults alike, it’s a cueing system for the brain and body that sleep is coming next on the list and prepares you nicely to fall asleep and sleep well. Most of us adults have one without realising it: brushing our teeth, getting undressed, etc. in the same order each night.

“Overtiredness is another classic cause of a restless night. When overtired, the body goes into a mild ‘fight or flight’ state – a leftover from our caveman days when if you were exhausted and fell asleep somewhere other than your cave, you may be in danger of being eaten by something!

“Instead of relaxing when overtired, our brain throws a ton of adrenalin and cortisol into our system, thinking it needs to protect us from imminent danger. This makes it much harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep, so I always suggest picking a good bedtime and getting enough sleep.”


Other ideas to try, include:


Changing Your Diet

If you find you’re having vivid dreams or simply don’t feel rested when you wake, what you eat and drink could be playing a part.

Try to cut back on foods that are high in fat and sugar, as well as drinks like coffee and alcohol. Instead, eat sleep-encouraging foods like salmon, bananas, cherries and walnuts, or drink milk or chamomile tea.

Read more: Counting Sheep? Here Are 5 Foods That Could Be Hampering Your Sleep and 10 Foods That Help You Get a Quality Sleep


Investing in Blackout Blinds

As Karen mentioned, we all sleep better in the dark, but sometimes this isn’t simple. If you work shifts or your bedroom window overlooks streetlights, we would recommend investing in thick, quality-made blackout blinds. A sleep mask is also a great affordable option too!


Journaling Every Evening

If you think your restlessness is down to stress or anxiety, try journaling before bed or keeping a pad and paper in your bedside table. Getting your thoughts down on paper means you won’t forget them, and you can relax more before nodding off.


Purchasing a New Mattress

If you think it’s time to upgrade your bed, we would recommend a memory foam mattress for adults (not recommended for those still growing). The foam gently moulds to your body’s shape, providing comfort and support, preventing you from wriggling quite so much and disturbing partners as a result.

For more top tips on how to get rid of restlessness and to have a better quality sleep, check out our post: 8 Top Tips for a Healthy Night’s Sleep


When to Seek Medical Help

If you struggle to sleep and are restless for a number of weeks, and this starts to influence other aspects of your life – for example, it’s harming your memory or responsiveness – then we would recommend speaking to your doctor or sleep consultant.

If you are concerned about your child’s restlessness, Karen adds:

“There are conditions that can affect sleep, thankfully most of them rare.

“The more common ones with signs to look out for would be, a child who snores excessively. This can be due to ENT issues which can cause obstructive sleep apnoea and should be checked out by a GP.

“A baby who makes whistling, raspy noises whilst breathing or sleeping, should also be investigated as this could be due to laryngomalacia, a condition where the larynx is floppy.”


Let’s Tackle Restless Sleep Together

Whether due to restless sleep syndrome, being stressed or any other factors, sharing is caring when it comes to tackling sleepless nights. So, if you have a tried and tested method for how to get rid of restlessness, we’d love to hear it.

Please join the conversation over on social and let’s discuss top tips via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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