Tossing and Turning All Night? What to Do

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You may not realize that you are tossing, turning, and kicking up a storm each night. But if you're not waking up feeling rested and refreshed in the morning, or if you're okay but your sleep partner is complaining, you know something is up.

Everyone moves around in their sleep, and children are especially restless sleepers. Most of the moving around you do in bed happens during the first half of the night, during what is known as slow wave sleep. Slow wave sleep is the deepest stage of sleep, from which it is most difficult to wake up. Normally, the little bit of tossing and turning you do has no effect on the quality or quantity of sleep you get.

But if you are flailing about, knee-jerking your partner, and generally disturbing the peace of the night, it may be time to seek professional help. Fragmented or constantly interrupted sleep leaves you feeling restless and sleepy during the day, diminishes your quality of life, and can ultimately be dangerous to your health. If you are sharing your bed, your partner may end up feeling pretty bad, too.

If environmental distractions are at the root of your restlessness, there is probably a straightforward solution. Outside sounds and lights may be loud enough or bright enough to cause disturbances in sleep without you even realizing the cause. Your partner may be pulling all the bedding to one side, leaving you exposed to the air. Your bedroom may be too hot or too cold, you dog may be howling at the moon or your cat jumping on and off your bed

These types of environmental disturbances can usually be resolved in straightforward ways, such as using a white-noise sleep machine or ear plugs, hanging light-blocking drapes or wearing an eye mask, using separate sheets and quilts even though you share a bed with someone, adjusting the room temperature and keeping your pets out of the bedroom at night.

Sometimes, however, your tossing and turning has more serious roots. In addition to sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder, sleep apnea and other types of sleep-related disordered breathing, medical problems such as chronic pain conditions, seizure disorders, anxiety, depression, asthma and acid reflux can all cause fragmented sleep. It may be necessary for you to speak with a sleep disorder specialist, or participate in a sleep study, to find out why you are not getting a restful night's sleep and what you can do about it.

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Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: Sleep Disorders. Web 9 Feb 2011.

Hu, RF et al. "Effects of Earplugs and Eye Masks on Nocturnal Sleep, Melatonin and Cortisol in a Simulated Intensive Care Unit Environment. Critical Care 2010;14(2):R66. Web. 9 Feb 2011.

Martin, J et al. "Assessment and Treatment of Sleep Disturbances in Older Adults." Clinical Psychology Review: 2000;20(6):783-805. Web. 9 Feb 2011