Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs while at rest, usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations such as tingling, crawling, creeping or aching. The symptoms of RLS often occur at night and can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, leading to daytime fatigue and decreased quality of life.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), RLS is one of the more common sleep and movement disorders, affecting approximately 5 to 10 percent of American adults and 2 to 4 percent of children. RLS’s ubiquitousness increases with age, notes NIH, and it affects women more than men for unknown reasons.
Thankfully, there are several steps that can be taken to treat RLS and alleviate the symptoms.
1. Lifestyle Changes
Making certain changes to your lifestyle can help reduce the frequency and severity of RLS, such as avoiding stimulants in the evening (caffeine, alcohol and tobacco), helping improve sleep quality and reduce the frequency and severity of RLS symptoms.
Additionally, regular exercise and stretching can help improve circulation and reduce muscle stiffness. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight and diet. Massaging the legs, taking a warm bath or using heating pads or ice packs can all help assuage symptoms.
There are several prescription options that can be used to treat RLS, including dopaminergic drugs, anticonvulsants and opioids.
Dopaminergic drugs, such as ropinirole and pramipexole, work by increasing the level of dopamine in the brain, which can help reduce the symptoms of RLS. Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin and pregabalin, can help reduce RLS symptoms by reducing the abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes the sensation of RLS. Opioids, such as oxycodone and methadone, can also be used to help relieve the discomfort and pain associated with RLS.
3. Iron Supplementation
Iron deficiency can cause or worsen RLS symptoms. If a person has anemia or low iron levels, iron supplements may be prescribed by a doctor in conjunction with other medications. Take note that iron supplements may cause a few side effects such as stomach issues or constipation.
According to the Sleep Foundation, in addition to iron, other vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, zinc and vitamin D may also help with RLS symptoms.
4. Sleep Hygiene
Maintaining good sleep hygiene can help reduce the symptoms of RLS. This includes establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding naps during the day and creating a comfortable sleep environment.
It is also important to avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as watching TV or using electronic devices to avoid exposure to blue light that can keep you awake.
5. Stress Management
Stress and anxiety can exacerbate RLS symptoms, so it’s important to find ways to manage both. According to the Anxiety Centre, reduced levels of GABA and Glutamate (inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters, respectively) are linked to chronic stress, and this change in neurotransmitter levels can lead to uncontrolled excitatory action such as RLS.
Some relaxation and stress reduction techniques — yoga, meditation or talking to a therapist — may help RLS sufferers.
Counter RLS With Restfulness
It’s important to note that RLS is often a chronic condition, and treatment may need to be continued long-term. The severity of symptoms varies from night to night and over the years, as well. If you’re experiencing RLS symptoms that are severe or disruptive to daily life, speak with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment.
Whitney Sleep can help if you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of RLS. Learn more about it here, and schedule a visit to be evaluated, putting you back on track to a restful night’s sleep every night.