Do you know that feeling when you’ve been sitting too long and you have the urge to get up and stretch your legs? That’s what people with restless leg syndrome feel every day. You can imagine what that must feel like when trying to get some sleep. If you or a loved one has RLS, you understand how frustrating it can be with not only relaxed daytime activities but when you are trying to get some much-needed rest at night. It’s important to have an understanding of what this is and how it can impact you or those you love in order to not let it completely interrupt your life.
What is RLS?
RLS is a neurologic sensorimotor disorder. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling in the legs that patients often describe as feeling like they have something crawling under their skin. Many have also likened it to a pins and needles feeling, pain or even itching. It happens when they are at rest, so people often find relief from movement or physical pressure on the legs. However, it usually is at its worst at night so finding relief isn’t always as easy.
Who is impacted by Restless Leg Syndrome?
Around ten percent of adults have RLS and two percent of children have it as well. Women are more likely to have the disorder but it can start at any age. Most often, middle-aged people and older are impacted with RLS.
The cause of the syndrome is still not completely known. There has been evidence1 to suggest it is genetic. Many women develop it in pregnancy. It can also be attributed to low levels of iron in the brain. Some diseases may increase the likelihood of developing RLS such as Parkinson’s and Diabetes.
How to Cope
Anyone with restless leg syndrome will tell you how frustrating it is. While there isn’t a cure for it, there are some ways to manage the feelings.
Some at-home relief can include:
- Massage: Before bedtime, take a warm bath to relax your muscles and then follow it with some leg stretching and a massage.
- Activity: Keeping a consistent activity level during the day will help you at night. It’s important to keep the body moving and the blood flowing throughout the daytime. Be sure you are not overdoing it, but setting a pace for yourself that is manageable and repeatable every day.
- Cutting Out Caffeine & Alcohol: Having caffeine or alcohol before bed is going to make anyone’s sleep worse. Be sure to stay away from it before bed to not make the situation any worse.
- Develop Good Sleep Hygiene: Set yourself up for success by having a consistent sleep schedule, limiting caffeine, having a dark and relaxing bedroom and allowing yourself at least an hour of electronic-free relaxation before hitting the bed.
Your doctor may suggest:
- Iron Supplements
- Anticonvulsants (typically prescribed for persons with seizures)
- Similar medications prescribed to those with Parkinson’s Disease
Restless Leg Syndrome & Your Sleep
Restless Leg Syndrome itself is categorized as a sleep disorder because of how it impacts sleep. Those who have it are either up and walking around at night to relieve the discomfort or may have involuntary jolts that wake them at night. This constant state of awake time can lead to extreme exhaustion and other negative side effects associated with inadequate sleep2.
It’s important to find ways to cope with RLS in order to have overall better health and rest. Not getting an appropriate amount of sleep can cause a host of other problems such as heart disease, memory issues, depression, weight gain and a higher risk of diabetes.
If you have questions about RLS or sleep in general, reach out to us. We’d be happy to connect you with resources.
- Genetic aspects of restless legs syndrome. V Dhawan, M Ali, K R Chaudhuri, Postgrad Med J. 2006 Oct; 82(972): 626–629. doi: 10.1136/pgmj.2006.045690 PMCID: PMC2653903
- Effects of restless legs syndrome (RLS) on sleep. Richard K Bogan, Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2006 Dec; 2(4): 513–519. PMCID: PMC2671944