Getting Rest with RLS

When your legs ache, you can usually lie down and relax to alleviate your symptoms. But for people who suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS for short), relaxing only makes them hurt more. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one in ten Americans are suffering from RLS, which is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move them in an effort to relieve these sensations. The intensity of symptoms, which may occur either occasionally or regularly, ranges from irritating to painful, and the sensations are often described as burning, tingling, or tugging feelings deep inside the leg, commonly between the knee and ankle. RLS affects people of all ages, but it is most common in people middle-aged or older.

Although no cause for RLS has been found, research is underway. Some recent findings include:
  • About 50% of cases occur in people with a family history of RLS.
  • Low iron levels or anemia may trigger symptoms in some people.
  • Some chronic conditions, like kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy, have been correlated with RLS.
  • Symptoms may arise during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester, but usually disappear within a month after delivery.
  • Certain medications may aggravate RLS.
  • Using caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may aggravate symptoms in some people.
To most people suffering from RLS, even more bothersome than the pain and sensations are the secondary symptoms. Exhaustion and daytime fatigue are constant struggles, as RLS makes sleeping difficult, but can also affect relationships and job performance, as well as general quality of life. RLS doesn’t usually get better on its own, so getting treatment is the imperative first step to getting a good night’s sleep. Here are some ways RLS may be treated:
  • Consume foods (or dietary supplements, as prescribed by a physician) to correct potential nutritional deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium.
  • Work with your health care provider to treat any underlying disorders (as discussed above) that might be contributing to your RLS symptoms.
  • If you think one of your medications may be contributing to your symptoms, talk to your doctor about finding an alternative medication for your condition that doesn't have this negative side effect.
  • Avoid or limit your use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern, or change sleep patterns (i.e. go to bed later and sleep longer) to minimize symptoms.
  • Take part in moderate exercise on a regular basis. Moderation is essential since excessive exercise may aggravate RLS symptoms.
  • Try a combination of hot baths, leg massage, heat or ice packs to diminish uncomfortable sensations in your legs.
Thinking their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, many people with RLS don't seek treatment and suffer needlessly. But there are many treatment options available, and doctor and patient can work to find a solution together. If the options discussed above don’t work for you, talk to your doctor about prescription medications that help relieve RLS symptoms so you can sleep better.