Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder resulting in discomfort, aching or strange sensations in the legs that are only relieved upon moving the legs. 1Insomnia is the major byproduct of RLS and can make staying rested very difficult. The sensations felt in the legs have been described as tingling, itching, creeping and aching. These sensations distract the mind and make sleeping nearly impossible due to lack of comfort.
Symptoms of RLS are most evident in the nighttime, especially when trying to fall asleep. The urge to move the legs can disrupt sleep causing insomnia and daytime drowsiness the following day. Over half of those suffering from RLS symptoms report taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep each night. 2
Between 5 and 15 percent of the population suffer from restless leg syndrome, although many are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. 2 RLS is commonly diagnosed as simple insomnia or depression as many of the symptoms are similar.
RLS can begin at any age but it more severe and pains last longer as age increases. The peak onset period is around middle age. 1 Additionally, RLS is known to run in families. More than 70 percent of children diagnosed with RLS also had a parent with RLS. 2 RLS is more common in females and those who are pregnant, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or are anemic are at higher risk. 1
Treatment for RLS is typically prescribed medication and relaxation therapy. 1 Walking, massaging the legs and acupressure are a few of the techniques proven to help reduce RLS symptoms. Relaxation techniques such as Yoga and Pilates, especially late in the day can assist in stretching the legs and help to alleviate symptoms. 2 Heat therapy in the form of heat or ice packs or simply a hot bath have also been shown to help with relaxation of muscles and helping to ease symptoms.
Caffeine intake can increase chances of developing RLS and can worsen symptoms if intake is not suppressed. Also, those with low iron levels or anemia may develop RLS and should take actions to increase iron intake.
The best way to combat the symptoms associated with RLS is through relaxing and going through the process to get better sleep overall. This includes making the bedroom quiet, cool and comfortable, not eating close to bedtime and exercising regularly. Additionally, memory foam mattresses and latex mattresses may help with RLS as they help to reduce pressure points.
Teamed with the many other sleep problems and disorders, especially in adults, individuals suffering from RLS can experience a very difficult time sleeping resulting in lack of focus, lack of attentiveness and onset of depression.
1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.
2. National Sleep Foundation—Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Sleep; http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/restless-legs-syndrome-rls-and-sleep