Baby Throwing Legs Up and Down in Sleep

Baby Throwing Legs Up and Down in Sleep


Many parents experience moments of worry when they observe their baby throwing legs up and down while asleep. This restless sleep can be a normal part of a child’s sleep pattern, but in some cases, it may indicate underlying sleep disorders or behavioral health issues.

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) and restless leg syndrome (RLS) are sleep disorders that involve repetitive movements of the lower limbs. Both conditions can lead to restless sleep and jerky legs, which may disrupt a child’s sleep quality. However, these conditions are relatively rare in infants and young children.

Self-soothing techniques can be helpful in easing the discomfort caused by RLS. These techniques can help babies learn how to soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake up. If the behavior persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, parents should seek medical help. Behavioral health issues, rare cases, and potential effects on the brain are all factors to consider when addressing RLS in infants.

In this article, we will explore the causes of RLS in infants, self-soothing techniques, and when to seek medical help. We’ll also discuss the symptoms of RLS in babies and its impact on a child’s sleep.

Restless Leg Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: Causes and Symptoms

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) and restless leg syndrome (RLS) are sleep disorders that involve repetitive movements of the lower limbs. Both conditions can lead to restless sleep and jerky legs, which may disrupt a child’s sleep quality. However, these conditions are relatively rare in infants and young children.

In most cases, the rhythmic movements of a baby’s legs during sleep are simply part of their natural self-soothing process. As babies lift their legs and perform rhythmic movements, they may be attempting to self-soothe or alleviate discomfort. This behavior is particularly common in infants transitioning from REM sleep to a deeper, unconscious sleep stage.

As a baby grows, their muscle control improves, and these lifting legs and leg movements may become less noticeable. In older babies, these movements may still occur, but they rarely lead to sleep disruptions or poor concentration during the day.

Clinical sleep medicine professionals use visual scoring techniques to assess the severity of periodic limb movement and RLS symptoms. Pediatric periodic limb movement disorder is diagnosed based on the frequency and duration of leg movements during sleep. In contrast, restless leg syndrome is characterized by an uncomfortable sensation in the legs that is relieved by movement and typically occurs when the child is awake or trying to fall asleep.

In most children, these sleep-related leg movements do not cause significant sleep disruptions or behavioral issues. However, in rare cases, the symptoms may be severe enough to warrant further evaluation by a pediatrician. If you suspect your child may be experiencing sleep disorders, it is essential to discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional.

Importance of Self-Soothing Techniques to Help Baby with RLS Fall Asleep

Self-Soothing techniques Babies Naturally use

Babies with restless leg syndrome (RLS) may naturally develop self-soothing techniques to cope with the discomfort and restlessness associated with the condition. Although babies may not be consciously aware of their RLS, these self-soothing techniques can help them relax and settle into sleep more easily:

  1. Sucking: Babies often find comfort in sucking on their fingers, thumbs, or a pacifier. This natural self-soothing behavior can help distract them from the discomfort caused by RLS and promote relaxation.
  2. Rubbing or stroking: Some babies may instinctively rub or stroke a soft blanket, stuffed toy, or even their own skin to create a soothing sensation that can help them relax and cope with RLS symptoms.
  3. Rocking or swaying: Babies may naturally rock or sway their bodies when they feel restless, which can help alleviate the discomfort associated with RLS and encourage relaxation.
  4. Leg movements: While leg movements may be a symptom of RLS, some babies might also use these movements as a way to self-soothe. By moving their legs, they may experience temporary relief from the sensations associated with RLS, helping them to settle down and sleep.
  5. Holding onto objects: Babies may instinctively grasp onto objects such as a soft toy, blanket, or crib railing to provide a sense of security and comfort as they cope with RLS symptoms.

It is important to remember that self-soothing techniques may vary from one baby to another, and not all babies with RLS may develop these behaviors. Parents and caregivers should monitor their baby’s sleep patterns and consult with a pediatrician if they have concerns about their baby’s restlessness or sleep quality. The pediatrician may provide guidance on additional soothing techniques and potential treatment options to support the baby’s sleep and overall well-being.

Self-Soothing Techniques for Parents to use

Self-Soothing Techniques for Babies with Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) can be a challenging sleep disorder for babies and their parents. As babies grow and develop, it is essential to explore self-soothing techniques that can help them fall asleep more easily and experience less restless sleep. Here are some self-soothing strategies for babies struggling with RLS symptoms:

  1. Massage and gentle pressure: Massaging your baby’s legs can help relax their muscles and reduce the discomfort associated with RLS. Applying gentle pressure to the lower limbs may also provide relief and help to calm jerky leg movements.
  2. Warm baths: A warm bath before bedtime can be soothing for a baby with restless leg syndrome. The warmth can help relax their muscles and ease the symptoms, allowing them to transition more easily into unconscious sleep.
  3. Swaddling: Swaddling can provide a sense of security and help your baby feel more comfortable while sleeping. This technique can help minimize leg movements and make it easier for your child to fall asleep.
  4. White noise or soft music: Playing soft music or white noise in the background can help create a calming environment for your baby. This can help distract them from the discomfort of RLS symptoms and encourage a more peaceful night’s sleep.
  5. Create a bedtime routine: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. This may include activities such as reading a book, rocking, or singing lullabies to help them relax and prepare for sleep.
  6. Encourage self-soothing behaviors: As your baby grows older, encourage them to develop self-soothing behaviors such as sucking on their fingers or a pacifier, rubbing a soft blanket, or holding a small stuffed toy. These actions can help provide comfort and soothe RLS symptoms.
  7. Consult with a pediatrician: If your baby continues to experience restless sleep due to RLS, it is crucial to consult with a pediatrician. They may recommend further evaluation by a clinical sleep medicine specialist to identify underlying causes and develop a tailored treatment plan.

In conclusion, while restless leg syndrome can be challenging for babies and their parents, there are various self-soothing techniques that can help alleviate symptoms and improve sleep quality. By trying different strategies and working closely with healthcare professionals, you can support your baby’s sleep and overall well-being.

When to be Concerned

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is generally not a dangerous condition, but in some cases, it may indicate underlying behavioral health issues or rare cases that require medical attention. If parents notice that their baby’s restless leg syndrome is affecting their quality of life, causing poor concentration, or leading to signs of anxiety or depression, it may be time to seek help from a pediatrician or behavioral health specialist.

In rare cases, RLS may have an effect on the brain and require medical intervention. For example, if the baby’s movements are not rhythmic in nature, occur throughout the night, and disrupt sleep, it could indicate pediatric periodic limb movement disorder, which is a sleep disorder that affects the brain. In such cases, parents should consult a pediatrician or clinical sleep medicine specialist for further evaluation and treatment.

It is important to note that most cases of RLS in infants and babies are harmless and self-resolve as the baby grows. However, if parents are worried about their child’s restless leg syndrome, they should not hesitate to speak with their healthcare provider.


In conclusion, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition that can affect both adults and children, including babies. While RLS in babies is rare, it can still occur and cause discomfort and disrupted sleep. Babies may use self-soothing techniques such as lifting their legs and engaging in rhythmic movements to alleviate the discomfort associated with RLS. Parents can help their babies self-soothe by creating a comfortable sleep environment, establishing a soothing bedtime routine, and using gentle touch or massage. In some cases, medical intervention may be necessary, particularly if RLS symptoms are severe or affecting the baby’s behavior or development. Pediatricians should be consulted if parents are concerned about their baby’s RLS symptoms or have any questions regarding their baby’s sleep behavior.



Why does my baby throw her legs up and down while sleeping?

Babies may throw their legs up and down while sleeping due to a variety of reasons, such as self-soothing, muscle control development, or experiencing REM sleep. In some cases, it might be a symptom of a sleep disorder like restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder, which causes repetitive leg movements during sleep

Why do babies lift their legs up and throw them down?

Babies lift their legs and throw them down as a natural self-soothing technique or as a way to relieve gas or gastrointestinal discomfort. Additionally, it may be an unconscious behavior related to muscle control development and rhythmic movements during sleep.

Why do babies throw their legs up at night?

At night, babies throw their legs up due to a combination of factors like self-soothing, muscle control development, and sleep stage transitions. Sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder might also contribute to this behavior, causing discomfort and restless sleep for the baby.

What is nocturnal myoclonus syndrome?

Nocturnal myoclonus syndrome, also known as a periodic limb movement disorder, is a sleep disorder characterized by involuntary jerky leg movements during sleep. These movements can disrupt a child’s sleep, leading to poor concentration, anxiety, and behavioral health issues. In some cases, it may co-occur with restless leg syndrome, which can further complicate the sleep experience for affected infants.





This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.