Do you have an almost overwhelming urge to move your legs as soon as you relax or lie down? Do strange, uncomfortable sensations keep you awake at night? You might suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS). Restless leg syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes an unpleasant, uncontrollable urge to move your legs, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. It is considered a sleep disorder because it usually happens around night-time when sitting or lying down. According to a 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian adults, 18% of Australian adults suffer from RLS.
Unfortunately, doctors don’t know exactly what causes RLS, but they suspect it may be genetic. RLS can occur at any age but is more common as you age and in women, with approximately 40% of pregnant women experiencing it. People with RLS say the sensation can feel like itching, crawling, pulling, aching, throbbing or pins and needles. The symptoms can range from mild to unbearable, and can also occur in the arms, chest or head, although this is less common.
The severity of the symptoms will play a role in your sleep quality. Those who suffer from RLS may have difficulties firstly falling asleep and then staying asleep. Suffers may continually get out of bed and walk around during the night to relieve cramps resulting in constant broken sleep. This can then result in daytime fatigue or more long-term consequences like sleep deprivation, which can put you at risk of other serve health problems. According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes people with RLS report, they are often unable to concentrate, have impaired memory, or fail to accomplish daily tasks. Untreated RLS can lead to roughly a 20% decrease in work productivity and can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Here are some lifestyle changes and sleep hygiene tips that may help reduce symptoms:
- Regular exercise
- Regular sleep schedule
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
- Massage or stretch your leg muscles in the evening
- Soak in a hot bath before bed
- Use a heating pad or ice pack
- Practice yoga or meditation
- A vibrating pad called Relaxis
- Avoid sitting still for prolonged periods, especially in the evening
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Foot wrap
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, 2021, Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet