Sleep Problem: Restless Legs Syndrome

June 6, 2012

It’s safe to say that those who suffer the neurological disorder known as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) experience some sort of discomfort every time they snooze. Even if they’re tired and ready to go to bed, the involuntary leg movements keep them up. Restless legs syndrome is characterized by irritating tingling, itching, and even aching sensations that bother the legs at night. The leg sensation leaves the poor victim of this neurological disorder with a very strong urge to move the legs at night. The sensation usually goes away when the person stands up and takes a brief walk but the moment he or she lies down again, the itching and tingling sensation comes back. Nobody wants to be in such a state and fortunately, there’s a way around this problem.

Dopamine Imbalance

The cause of restless legs syndrome, according to several experts, is that there is an imbalance in dopamine levels in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that delivers signals between the brain and the nerve cells. A big percentage of restless legs syndrome cases are genetic. More often than not, a person with at least one family member who has restless legs syndrome will have a big likelihood of developing it as well. It may not manifest at a young age because it is more common among older people. Pregnant women are also susceptible to this syndrome.

Furthermore, certain ailments may aggravate it, such as diabetes, kidney failure, and rheumatoid arthritis. Restless legs syndrome must be addressed upon detection because mild symptoms (manageable irritating sensations) can develop into anxiety, depression, and sleep problems if the symptoms persist.

How to Manage RLS

If restless legs syndrome is caused by an existing illness, the patient should work with the present physician to manage the disease itself (e.g. diabetes). Mild symptoms can often be treated without medication. Doctors recommend several stretching exercise like calf stretches to minimize the irritating sensation of restless legs syndrome. Moreover, the patient should find ample opportunities to move around during the day to make the nights more comfortable. Walking around during lunch break or taking a break during work hours to stretch a bit has helped several patients considerably. At night, pressure stockings and bandages may also soothe the irritating sensation.

As for medication, doctors would not recommend them unless natural ways of managing restless legs syndrome do not work anymore. The drugs are reserved for really severe cases because the medications are quite strong – prescription painkillers, anti-seizure drugs, and anti-Parkinson’s medication. All of these medications are supposed to be taken with the doctor’s approval because uncontrolled dosage can give rise to adverse side effects (e.g. heart disease).

A regular sleep schedule plays a major role in relieving restless legs syndrome. Stick to a regular sleep schedule and try to get the ideal amount of sleep if possible. Set up a calming bedtime ritual to condition the body for sleep. A healthy lifestyle is also a must in order to relieve this syndrome — if you cannot live without caffeine, limit yourself to a maximum of two cups only before afternoon strikes; and get rid of other caffeine sources in the diet, such as soft drinks. Minimize intake of alcohol and it would be best to stop smoking cigarettes as well.

It may be easy to dismiss restless legs syndrome, but it can make your nights extremely fitful and the sleep deprivation can severely affect your productivity during the day. Take the first step in relieving your restless legs syndrome with a regular sleeping schedule paired with a healthy lifestyle.