Are your legs uncomfortable when trying to sit or lie down? Do you experience a crawling, creeping, burning, or tingling sensation in your legs that interfere with your sleep, and keep you up at night? Do your legs feel better when you get up and move around? If you answered yes to all of these, you could be suffering from restless legs syndrome.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common condition you probably haven't even heard of. It affects more individuals than type 2 diabetes and other conditions. Up to seven or eight percent of the population are suffering from this neurological condition with two to three percent experiencing severe symptoms that impact their quality of life.
Most individuals develop RLS after the age of 45 years old. Women have nearly two times the risk of developing the condition as men.
What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
RLS is a disorder, causing uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in your legs, causing you to have a strong urge to move them. You often experience the symptoms in the late afternoon or during the night when you're trying to sleep. You may also experience them when you sit and are inactive for an extended period (i.e. watching a movie or sitting on an airplane).
Because the severity of your symptoms can increase during the night, it often becomes difficult for you to fall asleep or go back to sleep after you wake up. Walking around or moving your legs typically alleviate the discomfort, however, you can experience the symptoms again once you stop the movement.
Restless legs syndrome falls under the classification of a type of sleep disorder because rest and attempting to sleep trigger the symptoms. It's also classified as a movement disorder because you're forced to move your legs to find relief of the symptoms. It's best characterized, however, as a neurological sensory disorder in which your brain itself produces the symptoms.
Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome
Often, RLS doesn't have any known cause. Researchers do suspect a dopamine (brain chemical that sends signals to control the movement of muscles) imbalance could be the cause.
Pregnancy or changes in hormones could worsen RLS symptoms temporarily. Some women experience their first occurrence of RLS during pregnancy, particularly during the last trimester. But, symptoms typically go away after delivery.
Sometimes, RLS runs in families, particularly when the disorder begins before the age of 40. Researchers have found certain areas on the chromosomes where RLS genes could be present.
Risk Factors For Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS typically isn't associated with any underlying, serious medical problem. But, it has accompanied other conditions in some cases like:
- Iron deficiency: An iron deficiency, with or without anemia, can cause RLS or worsen it. If you have a history of stomach or bowel bleeding, repeatedly donate blood, or experience heavy menstrual periods, you could have iron deficiency.
- Peripheral neuropathy: This damages nerves in your feet and hands due to a chronic disease like alcoholism and diabetes.
- Kidney failure: With kidney failure, you could also suffer an iron deficiency, frequently with anemia. When your kidneys aren't functioning properly, your blood's iron stores can decrease. This and other body chemistry changes can cause RLS or make it worse.
- Spinal cord conditions: Spinal cord lesions have been linked to restless legs syndrome. If you've had spinal cord anesthesia, like with a spinal block, it, too, can increase your risk of developing RLS.
Restless Legs Impact on Sleep
RLS makes it hard to get comfortable so you can fall asleep. Your symptoms are likely worse during the night. Some individuals find it hard to describe the sensation they experience. You might lie down, and start feeling itching or burning inside your legs. If you get up, move your legs or walk around, the symptoms typically go away. But, the discomfort could come back once you're lying back down, and trying to go back to sleep.
RLS might cause you to sleep fewer hours at night. Many individuals with severe cases of RLS experience less than five hours each night of sleep. Milder cases don't disrupt your sleep as much; however, the sleep you do get could be of poorer quality.
This sleep loss accumulation from RLS could cause you to be excessively sleepy in the daytime, make concentration difficult, and cause you to feel irritable. This could have a huge effect on your personal and professional life. Individuals with RLS are more likely to have anxiety or depression.
5 Home Remedies for Restless Legs
The numerous (mostly unknown) causes make RLS hard to treat. Individuals who're struggling with RLS should definitely go to their doctor to receive a diagnosis, and obtain more details of what's going on. In the meantime, you can try any of these five home remedies to see if it helps your RLS symptoms.
1. Give Up Alcohol, Caffeine, and Tobacco
Giving up these substances could positively impact your RLS symptoms, and sometimes, even help you fall asleep better and experience more restful sleep.
2. Exercise or Perform Yoga
Some research has shown moderate exercise could help improve RLS. For example, in a small group of 23 individuals, those who finished a 12-week course of lower-body resistance training, and 30-minutes of walking on a treadmill, reported a substantial improvement in their RLS symptoms than those who didn't exercise.
You could also benefit from yoga, according to another study with 13 women participants. These women found symptom improvement after performing lyengar yoga classes for eight weeks. You just don't want to overdo it. Exercising within an hour before you go to bed, or performing workouts that cause your legs to be sore, can potentially worsen your symptoms, according to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation.
3. Make Improvements to Your Sleep Habits
Good sleep hygiene could help reduce the insomnia associated with RLS. This could mean:
- Taking a bath prior to bedtime
- Eliminating screens from your bedroom
- Going to bed each night at the same time, and waking up each morning at the same time
- Purchasing blackout curtains for your windows
4. Treat Yourself to a Home Spa Treatment
Warm baths, self-massage, and alternating between ice packs and heating pads can help reduce your RLS symptoms. However, this is mostly based off of anecdotal reports versus extensive research. Even so, these are still great ways to get in some therapeutic self-care time.
5. Relaxation Techniques
Stress can worsen your RLS, therefore meditation, exercises like yoga and tai chi could help.
RLS can really affect your sleep. It can take a toll on your life, causing marked life quality impairment, and possibly lead to depression. Because of this, don't hesitate to talk with your doctor, and see what can be done to help alleviate your symptoms.
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