It’s called “restless leg syndrome,” and the name says it all.
According to the Sleep Foundation, it affects about 10 percent of adults in the United States. If you’re unlucky enough to suffer from the condition, you already know the symptoms—some time in the late afternoon or evening, your legs start to feel like they need to move. As you try to fall asleep, your limbs keep you awake, jerking you out of your slumber right when you start to get comfortable.
So, what is restless leg syndrome (or RLS)? Scientists actually aren’t sure. It’s classified as a sleep disorder, and it’s a lifelong condition, although it does respond to certain treatments.
But it’s been linked to a few other disorders. People with iron deficiencies and kidney disorders are more likely to suffer from RLS. Pregnant women are also more likely to encounter the condition, especially in the third trimester.
Likewise, people with Parkinson’s condition have a relatively high chance of showing RLS symptoms. That has led some researchers to suggest that RLS is linked with neural dysfunction in the basal ganglia, which IFL Science describes as “a group of structures at the base of the brain with links to the area that controls movement.”
Over time, RLS can have serious effects on patients.
That’s because it disturbs sleep cycles, raising the risks of memory problems, sickness, and even digestive disorders. RLS tends to kick in (pardon the pun) right when your body heads into the deepest stages of sleep, so it prevents you from actually resting.
There’s a genetic component to the condition, too, so if your parents or siblings have restless leg syndrome, you’re more likely to suffer the same symptoms.
So, is there anything that you can do to treat RLS?
Well, yes, but ideally, you’ll get a professional diagnosis before attempting home treatment. RLS can be a sign of other conditions, so your doctor will want to perform a checkup.
You may be asked to take part in a sleep study, which will confirm that your sleep disorder is actually RLS. If you get a definitive diagnosis, your doctor may also perform tests to check kidney functionality.
Some of the most effective treatments for RLS are fairly simple.
Physicians often recommend exercise, which can reduce the stress that triggers symptoms. Meditation is also a common treatment.
Your physician may also recommend against caffeine and alcohol, especially around bedtime, as these substances can be triggers. As with other muscle disorders, hold and cold compresses can also be effective, as can massage.
Finally, you can downplay some of the negative effects of RLS by improving your sleep habits. Only go to bed when you’re ready to sleep—avoid reading, watching TV, or looking at your phone when you’re in bed. Go to bed at the about the same time every night, and wake up at the same time each morning. Eat a simple diet, manage your stress effectively, and your symptoms should become less prominent.
As a last resort, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you relax. In any case, there’s no sense in living with RLS—there are quite a few effective treatments, and once you have a diagnosis, you can quickly find ways to restore your sleep schedule.