Do you find yourself tossing and turning at night when you’re trying to fall asleep? Restless sleep can be frustrating, stressful, and uncomfortable. There are many factors that can contribute to restless sleep and they’re present in several facets of our lives, such as our lifestyles, our health, and our sleeping environments. 

Here, we’ll discuss what causes restlessness at night and what you can do to prevent disruptions in your sleep.

Working night shift

CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 1.8 million Canadians work night shift — that’s around 12% of working Canadians. Working nights can disrupt your internal body clock, which is aligned with environmental factors like the solar light-dark cycle. Because darkness prompts our brains to produce melatonin (the hormone that promotes sleep), it’s thought that working night shifts may also suppress the production of melatonin.  

If you’re experiencing restless sleep because you work night shifts, try replicating night time conditions when you do sleep in order to signal to your body and brain that it’s time to sleep.

Your sleep schedule

A poor sleep schedule can disrupt your daily life and result in restless sleep. Going to bed too late, too early, or going to bed when you’re not actually tired can prevent you from being able to relax and fall asleep.

Stick to consistent habits and try to establish a regular bedtime in order to improve your sleep schedule. If you find yourself tossing and turning because you’re unable to sleep, leave your bed and read a book or listen to peaceful music in another room until you feel tired.

Your mattress

A bad mattress can have a massive impact on the quality of your sleep. While an old, worn out mattress will do no favours for your comfort at night, a new mattress can be just as detrimental to the quality of your sleep if it isn’t right for you.

If your mattress no longer feels comfortable, it may be time to invest in a new one. There are many mattresses available on the market today, designed to accommodate and support almost every need and preference. Take the time to research your options and find the one that works for you.


Napping too much during the day can wreak havoc with the quality of your sleep at night. When you oversleep for a few hours in the afternoon, you may not be completely ready to fall asleep again by the time you go to bed at night.

To avoid restless sleep caused by oversleeping, skip naps. If you feel you really have to rest during the day, try to keep your naps to under 20 minutes.


Stress affects us both mentally and physically, and some of the symptoms caused by stress can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. For example: as a reflexive response to stress, our muscles tense up. Tense muscles can prevent you from relaxing when you go to bed, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep.  

Stress can lead to sleep loss and sleep loss can, in turn, lead to stress. Try establishing a relaxing night time routine to ease stress before bed.


Anxiety disorders sometimes result in heightened anxiety at night, which can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Research has shown that anxiety negatively affects sleep quality, meaning those who suffer from anxiety disorders may be more likely to experience restless sleep.

Additionally, feeling anxious at night may make you feel physically restless, which can lead to more tossing and turning in bed.

Medical conditions

There are several underlying health conditions that can cause problems with sleep. The most common of these are insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome (RLS).


Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can affect people both short-term and over longer periods of time. Those who suffer from insomnia are often unable to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you have insomnia, you may move around a lot in bed because you’re unable to get to sleep. 

You can find out more about insomnia — and how to manage it — here.

Restless leg syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a medical condition that causes an irresistible urge to move your legs — this is sometimes coupled with unpleasant sensations in the legs. Those who have RLS most often feel these urges when the body is resting (when lying down in bed, for example). This can lead to tossing, turning, and restless sleep throughout the night.

Sleep apnea

Those who have sleep apnea often experience interrupted breathing during sleep. This can cause you to toss and turn, and may also cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night. Read more about how sleep apnea affects the body and mind here.

Certain chronic pain conditions (like fibromyalgia) can also make it more difficult to get comfortable in bed before you go to sleep.

While there are steps you can take at home to prevent restless sleep, it’s important to monitor how the quality of your sleep is affecting the rest of your life. Ongoing, serious problems with sleep can be indicative of an underlying condition. Always consult your doctor if you feel you need further help with problems related to sleep.