If you’ve ever experienced a powerful urge to move your legs at night, you may have restless leg syndrome
What is restless leg syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. It’s a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs and typically happens in the evening or nighttime while sitting or lying down.
What causes RLS?
RLS can begin at any age and generally gets worse as you get older. It’s also more common in women. Usually, there’s no known cause of restless leg syndrome but researchers believe that it’s caused by an imbalance of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that sends messages to control movement.
Sometimes RLS is hereditary and other times pregnancy or hormonal changes may be responsible. Other conditions that accompany restless leg syndrome include:
- Peripheral neuropathy — damage to the nerves in your extremities such as hands and feet
- Iron deficiency
- Kidney failure
- Spinal cord conditions.
What are the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?
The most common, obvious symptom of RLS is the overwhelming need to move your legs, especially while sitting or when you’re in bed. You may also notice the following sensations within the limb (not on the skin):
Symptoms can vary in their severity. Sometimes they may disappear for a while and then return.
How does restless leg syndrome impact sleep?
If you have restless leg syndrome you may experience problems with your sleep. This is because symptoms are often worse at night. You may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. This can cause daytime sleepiness, fatigue and sleep deprivation, along with poor mood and a compromised immune system. Lack of sleep can severely impact the quality of your life.
What can you do?
If you can relate to any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s important to get your condition diagnosed as you may have an underlying condition that’s causing your restless leg syndrome, or making it worse.
Other things you could try to relieve the symptoms include:
- Apply warm or cool compresses on your legs.
- Take a magnesium supplement as it’s a natural muscle relaxant. However, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about dosage first, as magnesium can cause side effects such as diarrhea.
- Distract your brain by doing something else like stretching or other movements. This can stop the cycle of your brain focusing on the discomfort in your legs.
- Use weighted blankets as they may override the feeling of restless legs.
- Avoid dairy products or foods high in sugar, caffeine or alcohol before bedtime.
Develop sleep habits
Having good sleep habits can also help reduce symptoms. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time every day doing relaxing activities before bedtime and making sure that your bedroom helps promote good sleep. It should be dark, quiet, well-ventilated and at a comfortable temperature.