What Causes Restlessness?

Whether it creeps into the middle of your workday or rears its ugly head while you’re lying hopelessly awake in bed, restlessness is a highly undesirable state of being that can wreak havoc on your quality of life and overall wellness. While many underlying issues may result in feelings of restlessness, identifying which cause is at the root of your dis-ease will naturally be the first step in regaining your inner calm.

Want to identify what is causing your restlessness? Keep reading for a list of the most common issues and what you can do today to get back on track.


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Drug-Related Causes of Restlessness

If you feel an urge to engage in repetitive movements such as swinging or crossing your legs, shifting your weight from side to side, pacing, or fidgeting, you may consider taking a deeper look into your medicine cabinet.

According to a 2015 study by Current Psychiatry, akathisia is “a neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by subjective and objective psychomotor restlessness.” Translated from Greek, akathisia literally equates to an “inability to sit.” Individuals troubled by akathisia may experience feelings of agitation accompanied by a strong compulsion to move.

In clinical settings, akathisia is usually a side effect of medi­cation–among the most common are antipsychotics, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and buspirone. Some other medications, such as antiemetics, preoperative sedatives, calcium channel blockers, antivertigo agents, or withdrawal from an antipsychotic or illegal substance, may also be to blame.

The good news is that akathisia usually resolves itself once you stop taking the medication in question. As with any medical concern, you should always speak with your doctor before discontinuing or decreasing your dosage.

Other Causes of Restlessness

If you are restlessness isn’t drug-related, this list of causes can help you to identify which cause is the real culprit:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): People who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder suffer from symptoms that include feeling restless, “on-edge,” being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping. Psychotherapy can help individuals to address any difficulties that exist surrounding poor planning skills, high-stress levels, and difficulty relaxing. Progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing can be instrumental in helping those with GAD to relax and decompress.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): While there may be a genetic predisposition to Restless Legs Syndrome, the cause of RLS is unknown. Some conditions appear to frequently accompany the syndrome including the use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, pregnancy (especially in the last trimester), neuropathy, and iron deficiency. The National Institute of Neural Disorders and Stroke advises that sufferers of RLS avoid or decrease their use of tobacco and alcohol, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, implement a regular exercise program, or simply take a warm bath before heading to bed.

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  • Diet: Studies show that feelings of anxiety may be the result of a B-vitamin deficiency. Add a vitamin B complex nutritional supplement to your morning routine to zap feelings of restlessness and anxiety. And, before heading to bed, Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Food & Mood recommends eating a serving of nonfat popcorn about 30 minutes before sleep. Because the carbs will compel your body to create serotonin, you’ll feel more relaxed and those undesirable feelings of restlessness will disappear.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: If you’re feeling restless at night, obstructive sleep apnea may be to blame. Because your upper airway is partially blocked while you’re asleep, your diaphragm and chest muscles have to go into overdrive. Additionally, untreated sleep apnea can limit the flow of oxygen to your organs and may even cause irregular heart palpitations. Weight loss, avoiding alcohol, ditching the sleeping pills, and sleeping on your side may give you some relief, but you’ll need to see a doctor for individualized medical attention. He or she may recommend a positive airway pressure device that can be worn while you’re asleep.
  • Poor sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene relates to the activities under your control that impact the quality of your sleep. Limiting naps, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine, and regular exercise are some ways to practice positive sleep hygiene. Having a regular, nightly routine can increase your odds of falling (and staying!) asleep.

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