Learn about the causes of periods of restlessness and agitation and how this issue is treated. While it’s common to experience restlessness every now and then, it can be a sign of an underlying condition when it’s recurrent, severe, or prolonged. Periods of nervousness, fidgeting, and irritability are caused by various health factors,
While it’s common to experience restlessness every now and then, it can be a sign of an underlying condition when it’s recurrent, severe, or prolonged. Periods of nervousness, fidgeting, and irritability are caused by various health factors, including restless legs syndrome (RLS), mood disorders, the side effect of certain medications, and hyperthyroidism. When restlessness significantly impacts your life and disrupts sleep, you should call your healthcare provider.
This article provides a quick overview of the signs of restlessness as well as its causes. It also discusses treatments for this condition and when you should get medical help.
Bouts of restlessness can take on both mental and physical characteristics; they can disrupt sleep and have a significant impact on quality of life. Typical signs of restlessness include:
One of the most common forms of restlessness is seen in restless legs syndrome. This causes a very strong urge to move your legs when sitting or laying down. Since it typically arises in the evening or at night, it’s also associated with insomnia. Treatments can help, so call your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
Feelings of restlessness and irritability can arise for many reasons, including psychological and physiological factors. Broadly speaking, the most common health conditions that cause these symptoms are:
Restlessness and agitation are characteristic of anxiety, bipolar disorder, and clinical depression, and it can be a feature of schizophrenia. In addition, dementia causes these symptoms, alongside cognition, language, and memory problems. Periods of agitation and nervousness are also associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Restless legs syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, causes jitteriness in the legs when you’re at rest. While the exact causes of RLS are unknown, it has a genetic component, and it may be related to iron deficiencies in the brain. Kidney disease, dialysis (treatment for kidney failure), iron deficiency, pregnancy, and neuropathy (nerve damage) are among the conditions that can lead to RLS.
Another common cause of restlessness is overactivity of the thyroid gland, or hyperthyroidism, which causes muscle weakness, tremors, irregular heartbeat, and goiter (swelling in the neck), among other symptoms. This small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck regulates metabolism, growth, and physical development. Hyperthyroidism can occur in those with Graves' disease (an autoimmune disorder), nodules (noncancerous growths), and excess iodine intake, among other causes.
Restlessness, agitation, and related symptoms can also be a side effect of medications—a condition called akathisia. Antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia and dementia can contribute to the development of this condition. These include:
In addition, restlessness and agitation are side effects of several other classes of drugs, including:
Generally, the chances of these side effects rise with prolonged and frequent use of medications. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you’re experiencing restlessness or other issues while taking these drugs.
Restlessness is a common symptom of withdrawal from alcohol dependency or certain recreational drugs. These side effects can be dangerous and even fatal, so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider and get support if you make major changes to your lifestyle.
Since restlessness is associated with a wide-range of conditions, diagnosis of the condition involves isolating what’s causing the symptoms. A variety of approaches may be necessary, including:
The specific treatments for restlessness depend on the underlying cause. They range from taking medication or discontinuing others to taking part in therapy, among other approaches. These include:
Several home management approaches can ease the physical symptoms of restlessness, while also easing mental tension. Among these are:
Adopting certain strategies can help ease the burden and prevent restlessness. These include:
Restlessness can become problematic when it interrupts sleep and causes insomnia. If you don’t get enough rest, your daytime brain function is affected, meaning it's more difficult to concentrate, learn, or remember. You’re also prone to depression and anxiety and are more likely to get into accidents driving.
Sometimes restlessness, irritation, and related symptoms require extra attention and care. Call your healthcare provider if you find:
If you’re taking prescription medications, make sure you understand potential side effects, adverse events, or interactions with other drugs. Call your healthcare provider if you're experiencing alarming or disruptive symptoms, and know the signs you need emergency help.
Periods of restlessness and agitation are common symptoms of many conditions. It most often arises due to psychiatric or mood disorders, as a symptom of restless legs syndrome, hyperthyroidism, or as a side effect of antipsychotics and other medications. Restlessness can be especially debilitating when it leads to insomnia.
healthcare providers may prescribe dopamine agents, benzodiazepines, and opioids, among others, to ease symptoms. Iron supplements may also help. Alongside your healthcare provider’s directions, lifestyle changes and developing relaxation techniques may also help.
Feeling consistently restless is uncomfortable and can deeply affect your quality of life. What makes it extra tricky is that it can be hard to explain and maybe even find a healthcare provider that takes you seriously. Know that your symptoms and discomfort are valid and that you deserve to find answers and a solution to restlessness.
Many health conditions can lead to periods of restlessness and agitation. This is a common feature of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, iron deficiency, kidney problems, and dementia, are common causes.
Restlessness may also be a side effect of certain antipsychotic, antiemetic, antidepressant, and blood pressure medications.
On its own, the primary concern with restlessness is that it can lead to insomnia. Especially in cases of restless legs syndrome (RLS)—which tend to arise while you’re at rest—inability to fall or stay asleep can significantly impact your daytime functioning. Not only is this associated with depression and anxiety, but insomnia also causes memory, learning, and concentration problems.
Alongside medications, some at-home strategies can help ease attacks of nighttime restlessness associated with restless legs syndrome (RLS). Try placing hot or cold compresses onto the legs or giving them a massage. A hot bath can also help, or even taking a short walk to settle your mind.
Healthy habits, such as avoiding alcohol or tobacco, eating well, getting exercise, as well as meditation, and stretching can also help.