Periodic Limb Movement Disorder | PlushBeds Green Sleep Blog

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder


If your bed looks like a war zone when you wake up, then you may be suffering from the sleep-related parasomnia disorder known as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, or PLMD. Another clue of the disorder is thread bare spots on your bedsheets in the area that you normally position your feet. While anyone can suffer from the disorder, it is more common in middle- and older-aged people.

What happens during a PLMD episode?

When experiencing a PLMD attack, your legs — and sometimes your toes, ankles, knees, and hips — will jerk repeatedly and rhythmically, and may cramp. The movements are periodic (hence the name), and occur approximately every 20 to 40 seconds. PLMD episodes only last during non-REM sleep stages.


Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS, shouldn’t be confused with PLMD. If you have RLS, you are fully awake, and have a voluntary compulsion to move your legs. On the other hand, PLMD is involuntary, and most patients are unaware that they are doing it. However, the two conditions are linked. More than 80 percent of people who have RLS also have PLMD, but it is not vice versa.

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Why is PLMD considered a sleep disorder?

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is a sleep disorder because the repetitive movements disrupt your ability to get quality sleep. The condition is also associated with excessive daytime sleepiness.

Causes of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

While there are various causes of PLMD, its origin is either primary or secondary. There are no known exact causes for primarily PLMD other than an abnormality in the nerves that travel from the brain to the limbs.

Secondary PLMD, on the other hand, stems from various causes, including:

  • diabetes
  • narcolepsy
  • uremia
  • spinal cord injury or tumor
  • anemia or iron deficiency
  • certain medications, such an antidopaminergics and neuroleptics
  • withdrawal from certain medications, such as Valium

Treatments for Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

There is no known cure for PLMD, but treatment can reduce symptoms, and in some secondary PLMD cases, treatment may cause the condition to cease. Medications are the prevailing treatment for PLMD to reduce limb movements or to help the person sleep despite the periodic limb movements. Medications include dopamine agonists, benzodiazepines, anticonvulsant medications, and sometimes narcotics.

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