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What is Restlessness?

Restlessness is the inability to remain at rest. It is often characterized by a feeling of constant agitation. Restlessness can take the form of mental worry, inability to sleep, or physical agitation.

Why is Rest so important?

Simply put – We need rest to function. For instance, we have all been there; the workday following a night of 4 hours of sleep or less. When that first hour of the day arrives and you sit at your desk knowing that you probably won’t get a single meaningful thing done. It goes without saying that this isn’t a feeling anyone wants to relive but when we don’t allow the brain to recover, it can’t perform at optimum levels. Indeed, we need sleep. Many studies say 8 hours per night to be exact. However, the way you feel in the morning not only depends on the amount of sleep but the quality of rest as well. Follow the link below to read further about the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation:

Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance

Unfortunately, sleep can sometimes be hard to get your hands on. I know that I personally struggle to find 7 hours after completing my nightly routine.

Let’s be honest, getting enough quality sleep isn’t always an option. The good news is that there are other things we can do throughout the day to get the benefits of rest without actually taking a 3 hour nap in your cubicle. Keep reading to further understand the causes of restlessness and ways to overcome it throughout the day.

Resting Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Common Causes of Restlessness

Anxious Thoughts:  

In regards to anxiety, the Buddha once said that the mind is on fire and it is our job to put it out. Regardless of whether you follow his teachings, i’m sure you can relate to this statement. Most of us are in a constant state of mental chatter as thoughts race around in our brains. Rarely do we take the time to observe our thoughts and the way that we react to them. If you are anything like me then you have probably gotten to the point where you do not even know what is going on inside your own head. This constant state of mental hum causes your thoughts and emotional reactions to seem like a simultaneous event. Eventually, your emotional responses to thoughts manifest in the body as symptoms like a rapid heart rate, and tense muscles.  

Overuse of Caffeine:

Caffeine can be a great tool to help improve focus and increase energy levels. However, when overused, it can have negative effects on the mind and body. As a result, restlessness can be an effect of too much caffeine.

Restlessness Causes
Restlessness Causes Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Physical Tension:

Restlessness can sometimes start with physical tension in the body. It is common to experience tension in your muscles after overusing a muscle or sitting in one position for a long time. This tension causes slight pain and can result in a feeling of restlessness. For example, like many other people, my back gets very tight after 8 hours at my desk.  


Symptoms of dehydration can be mental confusion which can lead to feelings of restlessness. Make sure you are drinking enough water!

Restlessness When Sleeping

In addition to feeling restless during the day, it is possible that you may experience restlessness when sleeping. This could be the result of several possible causes. Sometimes restless sleep can be an indication of a more serious underlying disorder. Possible disorders that cause restless sleep include restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. Always consult your doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms of these disorders. However, restlessness when sleeping is more commonly caused by one or more of the factors below.

  • Alcohol consumption before bed
  • Stress
  • Drinking too much water before bed
  • Uncomfortable temperatures in your bedroom
  • Caffeine consumption too late in the day

You can prevent restlessness when sleeping by limiting alcohol consumption, meditating and exercising to reduce stress, drinking your glass of water more than an hour before bedtime, turning the air conditioning down to a comfortable temperature in your bedroom, and finishing your cup of coffee before noon.

How to Relieve Restlessness

Though it may sound unusual, resting the mind and body is like anything else, it takes practice. Our hectic daily lives teach us that we must always been thinking, acting, and interacting. Even when we are at home “resting” at the end of the day, we are still playing on social media or being entertained by a TV show. When we are constantly in this state of movement, it becomes habit and we forget how to be at rest. So, how do you train your mind and body to rest again? By practicing.


Similar to sleep; meditation can help the mind to rest. When we sleep the brain goes through different cycles where it takes all of the information that it downloaded throughout the day and organizes it by creating new connections and pathways. The same process occurs during meditation.

Studies show that meditation can have positive effects on physical and mental health. For purposes of this article just know that meditation can be an effective tool against anxiety and restlessness. To read more about the benefits of meditation; click on this link:

 Overcoming Restlessness
Overcoming Restlessness Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

There are many ways to meditate. Put as simply as possible, meditation is the exercise of intentionally being aware of one thing at a time. The most common object of focus in meditation is the breath.

When you put all of our focus in to your breath, you will begin to realize that the mind gets in the way of your relationship with the breath. As you practice, you will find how easy it is for the object of focus to change from breath to a thought. The point of meditating is to teach the mind to return to the intended object of focus. As you become better at this, you will realize that, with this increased focus comes a state of natural mental tranquility. With regard to overcoming restlessness, meditation is a way of teaching your mind to come back to a calm restful state.

Tai Chi:

The ancient practice of Tai Chi can also help ease any tension in your mind and body. The slow movements have been shown to improve balance in the mind and body, promote circulation, and improve overall health. Click on the link below to learn part of a Tai Chi sequence.

Moving Against Restlessness
Moving Against Restlessness Photo by Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash

Qi Gong:

 If you are ever lucky enough to witness Beijing at the crack of dawn, you will find many people walking backwards, smacking themselves, twisting, and swaying back and forth. Unless they are holding a bottle in a brown bag, they are most likely practicing Qigong. Even though Qigong has some of the same benefits of Tai Chi, you don’t have to memorize a long sequence of movements. The thinking behind Qigong comes from principles in Chinese medicine. Practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that the body is intertwined with energy pathways. The energy that flows through these pathways is called Qi and it is what keeps us alive and healthy. Therefore, we experience health problems when these pathways are blocked. The exercises in Qigong are meant to unblock these pathways.  Below is a simple Qigong routine that you can do each morning.


Yoga is one of the most commonly practiced exercises in the world. Like Tai Chi, meditation, and Qigong, there are many different ways to practice yoga. Some, less physical versions involve basic stretches and small movements while other versions require intense strength and stamina. From beginner to yogi, you could spend an entire lifetime trying to master all that yoga has to offer. Those of us who don’t call ourselves Yogis just use yoga as a way to overcome restlessness. For many reasons, Yoga is a great way to do this. The stretches release tension in the muscles, it forces you to focus on moving with your breath, and it is a great workout.

Yoga Photo
Yoga Photo by rishikesh yogpeeth on Unsplash
Stretching Photo
Stretching Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

Change your Perspective

Changing your perspective can be a great way to overcome that stubborn feeling of restlessness. Sometimes, the best remedy for a worried mind is a new way of looking at things. Below are some common ways to change your perspective:

  • Travel: changing your surroundings can give you a different way of relating to your thoughts and emotions.
  • Go for a walk: if you aren’t up for traveling to a faraway destination, going for a walk around your neighborhood can be a quick way to change your surroundings.
  • Read a book: reading can help us adopt new ideas to use for handling adverse situations in life.
  • Try something new: taking a cooking class, learning how to build cars, or taking a creative writing course will teach you to use your mind in different ways. Ultimately, this will give you a new perspective on thoughts that may be causing restlessness.


Restlessness is the inability to remain at rest. It is something that we all feel from time to time. Our busy lives demand constant attention and activity. As a result, our mind and body remains in a state of agitation even when we try to rest. Fortunately, just like restlessness, rest is a learned behavior. Hopefully, this article helped you to understand restlessness and introduced you to a few ways to overcome it. This is not an extensive list of relaxation techniques so if you have any other ways to overcome restlessness then please share what you know in the comments below.