Restless Legs, Sleepless Nights

Sleep medicine physician shares advice about this uncomfortable condition
Restless legs

Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder that causes an overwhelming urge to move your legs and makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. The symptoms are usually worse in the evening and when sitting for prolonged periods of time. Moving your legs or getting up and walking around makes you feel better. The discomfort may return when you try again to go to sleep. Restless legs syndrome may cause you to get fewer hours of sleep each night.

Most people develop restless legs syndrome after age 45, although it can occur at any age. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop the disorder, and it commonly runs in families. Causes include iron deficiency, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, pregnancy and medications. Aggravating factors include prolonged sitting, caffeine and alcohol — especially wine.

The primary symptom of restless legs syndrome is a sensation of discomfort in the legs that often defies description. The feeling is different than leg cramps or numbness from circulation problems. To describe this sensation, patients have used words like itchy, crawling, burning, creepy and throbbing. Usually this feeling is paired with the urge to move your legs. The desire usually worsens when lying down or resting, and the symptoms of restless legs syndrome are frequently worse at night.

Seek help for sleep disruption

You may have restless legs syndrome if you can answer yes to any of these questions:

  • Do you have difficulty falling asleep because of an urge to move your legs?
  • Do you wake up at night because you feel like your legs are on fire?
  • Do you feel an itching in your legs when you lie down to go to sleep?
  • Do your legs seem to feel better when you walk, stretch or make other movements?

If you think you have restless legs syndrome, talk to a board-certified sleep medicine physician. Your doctor may order blood tests, including measuring iron levels. In some cases, a sleep study may be recommended to ensure that you do not have obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders that may be causing sleep disruption. Quality sleep is vital for your health. Seek care if you are suffering from restless legs and sleepless nights.

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