Do ever get that strange feeling in your legs (when you are trying to fall asleep) that makes you want to keep moving them? If you do, you could have restless legs syndrome or RLS. This common condition affects one out of every twelve of us and for many it is just a mild irritation that happens from time to time.
Some people really battle with this syndrome
They describe it as feeling like insects are crawling inside their legs or they experience extreme burning, creeping or tugging sensations. When the syndrome is really painful or irritating, it can be difficult or even impossible to fall asleep and to stay asleep. The discomfort can increase as the night wears on. Lying down seems to trigger the restlessness in the legs.
Any disturbance to a full night's sleep is bad news for our health
There are four main characteristics of RLS:
1. An irritating, non-painful sensation in your legs that gives you an overwhelming urge to move them. Occasionally, this sensation also occurs in the arms.
2. Symptoms occur or become worse when you are resting. They improve again when you move your legs around.
3. Symptoms are worse from evening onwards, especially when you lie down, but you don't have to be in bed or going to sleep.
4. Little movements of the toes, feet or legs may be visible when you rest, which may look like nervous fidgeting.
You may also find you have repeated jerky leg movements while you are asleep that can wake you up or disturb your partner. If this carries on, you are going to feel very tired during the following day.
Why do we get restless leg syndrome?
- While it is not clear what causes RLS, there is often a family connection so genetics play a part while it certainly becomes more of a problem as we get older.
- Young people can often suffer from the same restlessness but it is often put down to “growing pains” or hyperactivity.
- Pregnancy is another time when the syndrome is likely – particularly in the the final trimester but it will go away again once the baby is born.
- If restless leg syndrome is a serious problem for you, you should see your doctor because in some cases it can be linked to a more chronic condition which will need to addressed - such conditions include diabetes, kidney failure, Parkinson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
- RLS may also be a side effect of taking pharmaceutical drugs such as antidepressants.
What can you do to help beat this syndrome?
Sometimes just simple lifestyle changes can alleviate the symptoms:
- Cut out caffeine-containing drinks particularly coffee, tea, hot chocolate and sodas. Check out your diet and avoid any other product that has caffeine as an ingredient. You should also avoid or cut down on alcohol at least until you see if your symptoms improve.
- Add more calcium, magnesium and potassium to your diet and include garlic. Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day to hydrate and detox your system.
- It may be lack of sleep. If you can follow good sleeping habits such as a regular bedtime at a reasonable hour; a cool, comfortable and quiet bedroom; and regular moderate exercise during the day (several hours before you go to bed) this could well help. You should also start and end the day with a routine of gentle exercise to stretch out the muscles. Some find it helpful to relax with meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises.
- Having a long soak in a warm bath or soaking your feet in hot water may also be helpful before bed. When in bed, try lying on your side with a pillow between your knees.
- Get tested for iron levels as it may be that yours are too low and you need to supplement your iron intake.
- If you have to go on a long car trip or long distance air flight, make sure you exercise and stretch beforehand and as often as possible during the trip as many people with RLS will get the same symptoms when having to travel some distance.
- An interesting new discovery is that recent studies have shown that sexual activity and the resulting orgasm will raise dopamine levels in a similar way to pharmaceutical medications for RLS but providing a much safer treatment for the condition and minus any side effects.
If these simple steps don't help, you should see your doctor in order to rule out any more serious underlying causes but try to steer clear of any pharmaceutical medication for the RLS itself.