Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Restless legs syndrome is the urge to move your legs or inability to keep your legs still when you’re sitting or lying down for extended periods, especially at or near bedtime. It’s often described as an overwhelming urge to kick your legs to make an uncomfortable “creepy-crawling” feeling go away. Patients with RLS often find it difficult to describe the symptoms, but can usually relate to the following statements:
- “I can’t keep my legs still and it helps if I keep moving them.”
- “I have a tingling, burning sensation that only gets better if I get up and walk.”
- “My brain drives me crazy until I jiggle my legs.”
Symptoms of restless legs syndrome are usually more bothersome at night and the condition is more common in older adults and women. Pregnancy, kidney disease, or an iron deficiency can also cause restless legs syndrome. Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco use can make your discomfort worse.
Although it is not a serious condition, restless legs syndrome can make it difficult to sleep, which can greatly impact your health. Fatigue can make symptoms worse.
Restless legs syndrome is classified as a sleep disorder. It can usually be diagnosed by describing your symptoms to a physician; however, an overnight sleep test at a sleep health center may be needed in select situations to rule out other significant disturbances that can worsen restless legs such as sleep apnea.
Get help for restless legs syndrome
Sleep specialists are qualified to recognize, diagnose, and treat restless legs syndrome. There are prescription medications that can treat RLS as well as home remedies that are effective for some people. These include:
- Hot baths.
- Leg massages.
- Applied heat.
- Ice packs.
- Elimination of tobacco or caffeine.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers (i.e. Advil and Motrin).
- Regular exercise.
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.
Above all, it is important to establish good sleep health. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Keep your bedroom temperature cool and the atmosphere peaceful and comfortable.
Medical treatments for restless legs syndrome range from iron supplements to dopamine enhancing drugs. Anti-seizure medications are also used to treat RLS. Your doctor or sleep specialist can help you decide which treatment is best for you.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)
Periodic limb movement disorder is the continual, periodic twitching of the legs or arms during sleep. Health problems can occur when these involuntary movements repeatedly interrupt your sleep.
Anyone can get periodic limb movement disorder, although it’s more common in people as they age. The exact cause of PMLD is not known although medications—including some antihistamines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics—can make the condition worse. So can caffeine.
RLS and PLMD can be related. The difference is that RLS happens while you are awake and are therefore aware of the signs and symptoms.
People who suffer from periodic limb movement disorder are usually in a state of light sleep when the disorder occurs. That’s why a diagnosis of PLMD can only be made following an overnight sleep test at a sleep study center.
Get help for periodic limb movement disorder
PMLD cannot be cured. In most cases, patients don’t need treatment because they sleep through the nighttime twitching. If the movements wake you up, you may be able to eliminate or reduce your sleep complaints by seeking treatment. Also, if daytime sleepiness or fatigue are present with no other cause identified other than periodic limb movements identified in a sleep study, treatment may be considered. Treatment approaches and medications for periodic limb movement disorder are similar to those used in restless legs syndrome.