Most of us will move during the night. Is there a specific reason for it though? In fact, there is. While scientists may not have all the answers, there are certain conditions and situations that prevent us from having an immobile night’s sleep.
In this article, we will examine the most common reasons for movement while sleeping and see if there is any way you can learn how to stop moving while sleeping. Perhaps this will help you (or your sleep partner) get a more restful and complete sleep.
Reasons for Moving in Your Sleep
There actually hasn’t been a lot of specific research into movement during sleep, but what they do know is well founded. There are several conditions that cause movement and a lot of guesses for the rest. Let’s look at the most well-known reasons.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
There is a well-documented condition called REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, or RBD. The condition is an abnormality in our sleep cycle that prevents the “paralysis effect” of REM sleep. During this cycle, we should be immobile as our brain activity increases and our heart rates and core temperature are lower.
However, in some cases, the body continues to get signals from the brain as if the body was awake. This causes the affected person to move a lot, effectively acting out their dreams.
During this reenactment, people can talk, yell or scream. Their limbs can flail, and they can punch, kick or scratch and grab.
The causes are unknown, however degenerative and neurological diseases and disorders are suspected. Alcohol and serotonin inhibition medications may also be to blame. There is no known cure.
When we start to fall asleep, our brain slows our heart and drops our core temperature. During the first few stages of sleep, our bodies begin to shut down in different orders. Our extremities are the first to go into the sleep stages, and sometimes this happens before the brain is ready for it.
As a result, the brain interprets the limbs unresponsiveness as either limb and muscle death or paralysis. It will send a signal to that limb to test if it can move. The resulting twitch, or jerk, is a response to this signal.
The myoclonic jerk, also known as myoclonic twitch, is a sporadic and involuntary aspect resulting in minimal movement with only one or two signals sent to the limb.
Once the brain catches up to the body in the sleep shut-down cycle, these signals and twitches stop for the night. It can become intense, though, causing you to become restless and making getting to sleep more difficult.
As with RBD, there is no cure; it is just the body’s way of keeping a check on itself and cannot be prevented.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
One of the biggest factors in sleep movement is known as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). Of all the movement conditions it is the only one that happens at night, or when we try to sleep.
There are two main categories for PLMD: primary and secondary. Primary PLMD is when the movement is the cause of itself. There is no known cause for primary PLMD and no known cure.
Secondary PLMD has a laundry list of reasons it occurs. As a secondary condition, or effect of another issue. Injuries to the spine, narcolepsy, vitamin deficiency and several other factors have all been linked to PLMD.
Depending on the root cause, some treatments may be available. Curing or treating the underlying cause will also alleviate the PLMD symptoms.
Comfort and Pain Reduction
Some movements are voluntary. Rolling over or adjusting our bodies into more comfortable positions happens before and during sleep. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure why we don’t just lay down in a single position and stay there, but most feel that our comfort level has a lot to do with it.
There are also some that think our bodies move naturally to help blood circulation while we sleep, preventing limbs from getting blood supplies cut off and to regulate our temperature.
While these theories make a lot of sense, they haven’t been scientifically proven. We also move out of the desire to be more comfortable. If the pillow is bunched up, for example, we may move part or all of our body to get to a more natural position away from the bunched-up area.
Having a sleep partner that moves can also cause us to move. If the room is too hot or too cold and the covers are added or removed during the night, for example, we will move to readjust our own comfort level.
Rarely will we wake up in the same position we fell asleep in, and these comfort and temperature conditions are generally the reason why.
Environmental aspects can cause us to move as well. Having sounds interrupt our deeper sleep cycle, for example, can cause us to move, or reposition ourselves if they do not fully cause us to wake.
Ambient temperature, lights, and noises all play a part in how well we sleep. Any of these factors can cause us to roll, adjust or move while sleeping. Generally, we will try to position ourselves in a manner that the offending environmental factor doesn’t affect us as much. Rolling over, so the hall light isn’t on our face anymore, for example.
There is a myriad of reasons that we may move while sleeping. Some of them are environmental and can be controlled to some degree. Regulating the temperature or light sources during the night, for example.
Other factors are medical and may or may not have known causes or treatments. Some conditions will cause movement because of injury or illness while others are a condition all on their own.
As science studies more about sleep habits and the effects movement has, they will uncover more specific reasons for our movement. For now, we are left to guess and keep adjusting to find that perfect sleep position a little longer.