THE BOTTOM LINE
- Restless leg syndrome causes itchy or a prickly feeling in your legs
- It can be extremely disruptive to sleep and lead to sleep deprivation
- There are strategies available to treat the symptoms of restless leg syndrome
Have you ever woken up with an itching, prickling, or crawling feeling in your legs that causes you to jump out of bed and move around until the feeling subsides? This irresistible urge to move your legs is probably restless leg syndrome. It can keep you up at night with sensations that range from uncomfortable to painful and can vary night by night.
What exactly is restless leg syndrome (RLS)?
RLS is a non-REM-related parasomnia, meaning that it occurs during the first three stages of your sleep cycle.
Symptoms are most likely to occur when lying or sitting down and may feel like:
Sensations of itching, tingling, prickling, or crawling inside your legs
An overwhelming urge to move, kick, stomp, or rub your legs
These unpleasant sensations may cause you to toss and turn all night or to get out of bed to pace around. Movement can often be enough to improve RLS symptoms (which is great…except that it disrupts your sleep, so it’s really not that great). In more severe cases of RLS, even movement and activity might not be enough to improve the sensations and can cause very serious sleep disturbances.
How common is it?
Can it impact my health?
What causes RLS?
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to determine the cause of restless leg syndrome in most cases, but some of the causes can include:
Genetics: RLS is likely to have a genetic component, with research finding that many people reporting symptoms have at least one parent or sibling who has the condition.
Pregnancy: The third trimester of pregnancy can cause temporary restless leg syndrome in up to 20% of pregnant women. Once no longer pregnant, the symptoms usually dissipate.
Substance use: Substances such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and antihistamines have all been found to exacerbate the symptoms of RLS.
HOW TO TREAT
RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
HAVE A HEALTHY SLEEP-WAKE SCHEDULE
The best way to ensure that you have a healthy sleep-wake schedule is to keep consistent wake and sleep times. That means trying to make sure you are going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
BEDTIME ROUTINE & SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
In addition to ensuring your bedtime routine and sleep environment are at top-notch, the following tips can also reduce the symptoms of mild and moderate RLS
Research has found that engaging in a regular exercise program can improve RLS symptoms by up to 39%.
PNEUMATIC PRESSURE THERAPY
This therapy can increase blood flow to your legs by using a compression device that squeezes your legs. Research has found this therapy to improve RLS symptoms after one month of daily use.
LIMIT SUBSTANCE USE
By reducing substance use, such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or medications such as antihistamines, you can reduce the symptoms of RLS.
What about more severe cases of RLS?
More severe cases of RLS may need a more intense treatment plan that includes medications. Iron supplements are generally the first line of treatment as iron deficiency can lead to RLS. Medications like pramipexole have been found to be effective in around 75% of people with restless leg syndrome, improving their quality of sleep. Speak to your doctor to see if treatment options such as anti-seizure drugs or dopaminergic agents might be right for you.