Has your sleep ever been disrupted by sudden and abrupt limb movements that you have no control over?
It could be that you feel an uncomfortable twitching, or crawling type feeling in your legs.
If that has happened to you before, it could very be that you have just experienced a sleep disorder known as “restless legs syndrome”. As unusual as this sounds, this is a very real sleep disorder.
As the same with many other sleep disorders, the exact causes are not well known. Nevertheless, medical research into drug treatment and other methods have lead some sleep experts to rethink about the potential causes of this sleep disorder.
In this post, you will learn more about restless leg syndrome, the symptoms, causes and treatment options.
We will also touch on some of the research that has been conducted about the effectiveness of various medication that are used to treat the more serious cases.
It would seem that some of these medications can cause some substantially alarming side-effects.
I will also suggest some home treatment options that can potentially miminize the alarming symptoms.
Let us find out what makes people move their legs uncontrollably at night.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
This video will provide you with a brief overview into this sleep disorder:
Restless legs syndrome is also referred to as “Willis Ekbom” disease. This is a neurological sleep disorder that causes you to have an undesirable urge to move your legs.
The majority of people feel an impulse to shake their legs every so often. You have seen this before it is that bouncing motion that some people do with their legs.
Most people can stop the shaking if they choose to do so, however from what I have seen most people naturally stop shaking their legs after a period of time.
This is what restless legs syndrome looks like in action:
Most people wait for a long time sometimes many years before they find treatment for this sleep disorder because they do not view leg shaking for a cause of concern.
However, seeing as how restless legs syndrome can cause you to lose out on sleep. That waves a red flag.
The good news is that restless legs syndrome can be managed through a combination of important lifestyle changes and medication.
Is Restless Leg Syndrome Common?
Coming from the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, this sleep disorder has an impact on more than 5 percent of the US population.
However, studies have discovered that almost 10 percent of adults have claimed that they experienced restless legs syndrome. The more serious cases greatly disrupts a person’s sleep patterns and general wellbeing. This often results in medication treatment over a long period of time.
An interesting fact is that women twice as likely than men to experience the sleep disorder. This happens a lot more in the middle age bracket. Yet, the symptoms can appear much younger as early as a person’s childhood.
There also seems to be a genetic link. The sleep disorder can also be hereditary being passed from parent to child.
This primary symptom of this sleep disorder is a twitchy leg movement that you have no control over. It is important that you keep in mind that this twitchy leg movement is different from the sudden jolting movement that one would experience in hypnic jerks.
The symptoms are most present at night time than they are during the day. This leg movement is stronger at night time and makes it rather difficult to become comfortable enough to fall asleep.
The leg movements usually occur every 10 to 60 seconds and can be so powerful that that they prevent you from going to sleep and can even wake up your significant other.
In some severe cases, the issue can cause major disturbances to your sleep patterns.
Feelings That You Might Experience
The unrestrained limb movements are often joined by other uncomfortable feelings in your legs and to a lesser degree your face, chest and arms. Some of the feelings that you might experience are:
- Throbbing, itchy, tingling, or burning sensation.
- Electric tingling in legs.
- Feeling of having bubbling water in your leg vessels, veins and arteries.
- A creepy or crawling type feeling.
All of these feeling are often joined with the desire to move your legs. The urge gets stronger when you lay down to rest.
Many times these feelings can be minimized by rubbing or shifting your legs. However, for some people the relief is only temporary. The symptoms can be anywhere from mild-mannered to insufferable and they are much stronger throughout the night.
There are some that experience the symptoms off and on and there are others that experience them all the time.
This can make it rather difficult to sit down for long periods of time in cars, airplanes or office chairs.
Sleep Disruptions and Your Overall Well Being
The different symptoms can cause you to receive less than the ideal amount of sleep every night. Those with a severe case often receive less than 5 hours of sleep every night.
This lack of sleep can cause you to have daytime sleepiness can make you feel testy and focusing on tasks will be more difficult. This can have an affect on all aspects of your life whether that be your professional or personal life.
Those with restless syndrome are more prone to feeling sadness, depression and anxiety.
Those with less severe cases usually do not have their sleep disrupted by the leg movements, yet the quality of sleep they recieve can often be of lower quality.
This lack of sleep or lower quality of sleep also has an effect on a person’s overall well being. They may also worry if they could potentially have a major mental or physical issue.
An interesting thing to note is that approximately half of all people who have restless leg syndrome can also experience pain in the lumbar region of their back.
It also seems that this sleep disorder can present during a woman’s pregnancy. There was a study conducted pregnant women are two to three times more likely to experience restless legs syndrome more so than the population.
The good thing is that this is usually an innocuous form of restless leg syndrome with a high degree of severity in the third trimester and usually disappears by the time around delivery.
Affiliation With Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
More than 80 percent of people who have this problem also have a higher chance of experiencing periodic limb movement disorder throughout the night.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder and Restless Legs Syndrome are two different sleep disorders, even if the symptoms of both sleep disorders do resemble one another.
The primary feature than separates the two is that periodic limb movement disorder only occurs when you go to sleep at night and restless legs syndrome can happen whether you are awake or asleep.
For periodic limb movement disorder you will only make spontanenous and repeated movements.
The movements can be anywhere from small movements of the ankles to more noticeable kicking movements of the legs.
You most likely are not conscious of these movements.
This leg movements can ruin your sleep quality and often leads you to feel drowsy during the daytime.
The leg movements of restless legs syndrome are often joined by other symptoms that can potentially include limb movements similiar to those found in periodic limb movement disorder.
Restless legs syndrome can also stop you from going to sleep in the beginning in addition to waking you up at night.
The causes for this sleep disorder are different for everybody. There are some cases where the cause is completely unknown. The issue can either be primary or secondary based on if you have another underlying health condition.
Primary Causes For Restless Legs Syndrome
In the case that the underlying medical condition has been ruled out, then the issue is hereby referred to “primary restless legs syndrome”. Even at this point the exact causes are still not fully known.
According to some responses from real drug treatments it seems to be that the cause could be neurological because of low dopamine levels in the brain.
The levels of dopamine in our brains reduces as we approach the end of the day (Go to point #9 in the list). This action reinforces the neurological theory as to why the symptoms in some people are stronger at night then they are during the day.
Nevertheless, the newest medical trial have their suspicions on the influence that dopamine has on restless legs syndrome.
This research can result in changes to treatment options in the future. Take a look in the next section for more information about this new research.
Secondary Causes For Restless Legs Syndrome
The secondary causes for restless legs syndrome can in reality be a symptom for another underlying health condition. The most prominent causes is iron deficiency anemia. There are other medicial conditions which can cause identical symptoms such as:
- Kidney Failure.
- Thyroid gland issues.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Peripheral Neuropathy.
Most medicial professionals want to reassure you that you are not suffering from any these long-term medical conditions prior to them considering you for treatment.
There is a potential link that connects iron deficiency anemia and restless legs syndrome that seems to have growing support from a number of doctors as documented in this report that was published in 2011.
This sleep disorder can also be a side effect of certain medication that includes:
- Allergy medications.
- Almost all centrally active dopamine receptor antagonists such as anti nausea medication.
- Over the counter sleep aids and anti histamines.
- Anti depressants.
- Medication that block calcium channels.
If you are currently taking of these types of medications, you should speak to your doctor to determine if any the medication you are taking are having an effect on your symptoms.
Increase Your Levels Of Iron
In regards to the secondary causes of restless legs syndrome, the goal will be to treat the underlying health condition.
If you feel as though you have an iron deficiency. It is possible to treat this issue by consuming foods that have a high iron content or even taking iron supplements.
This is a list of foods that are all high in iron that you can include into your daily diet:
- Seeds and nuts.
- Brown rice.
- Beans and lentils.
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. (A personal favorite of mine)
- Dried fruit such as raisins and dried apricots.
- Canned sardines.
- Meats such as beef, chicken and turkey.
- Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels. (You can avoid this if you have allergy)
Prior to taking any supplements. Medical professionals recommend that you have your “ferritin” levels examined first. Having too much iron in your diet can cause unfavorable results.
It is not always a simple as altering your diet though. Your doctor also needs to monitor and make sure that you are receiving the correct amount of iron in your diet.
In some serious cases, there is also the option to have iron intravenously. This article goes into more detail about the iron treatment. Scroll down to the “Iron supplementation” paragraph.
Lastly, with all of that mind if you do experience restless legs syndrome. I suggest that you consider having your blood iron levels examined before you take any other medications.
Is There A Cure For Primary Restless Leg Syndrome?
Regrettably, there are no reported cures for primary restless leg syndrome. Consequently, any medication that was prescribed to you is geared towards minimizing and manage the symptoms.
In the event that if the symptoms are not that severe, then treatment is usually not necessary. The majority of people can be reassured that they do not have any major underlying medical disorders or conditions.
Home Treatment Options
There are a number of home treatment options that you can try to minimize the discomfort such as:
- Stretch your legs in a gentle manner before going to sleep.
- Non strenous exercises such as stretching or walking rather than running. You can also move your legs on a stationary bicycle.
- Take a soothing hot bath during the evening.
- Use a cold or hot compress on the muscles in your legs.
- Massage your limbs before you go to sleep. Anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes should be enough, but you can go longer if you want to.
- Relax by reading books or playing board games.
- Practice mindfulness.
- You can also try some of these relaxation techniques.
The majority of these home treatment options can only provide relief for a short period of time. However, they are still worth a try to determine if they help you feel more relaxed, to ease the discomfort and help you fall asleep.
You can also try a method known as “Counterstrain Manipulation”, which in this trial some patients have reported to be effective. You would need to seek out a osteopath, a chiropractor, or a specialized massage therapist who can provide you with this type of treatment.
Some chiropractors presume that restless legs syndrome begins in the pelvic zone of the lumbar and sacrum region of the lower back.
Chiropractors can improve the pelvic instability by using exercises, stretches and adjustments.
There have been other studies conducted that have propose that using what is known as a “pneumatic compression device” can also minimize the symptoms. The downside is that these devices are very costly and you have to use them for approximately one hour everyday at night time. This is the reason why this treatment is not high on many people’s list.
Can a deficiency in magnesium play a part?
Some medical professionals and patients have proposed that a deficiency in magnesium can also add to restless legs syndrome.
Yet, there are not that many determined trials to observe the impact of low magnesium levels on patients with restless legs syndrome.
During 1998, there was a trial that look at 10 subjects. In the end there was some proof that magnesium can potentially help.
The researchers discovered that higher levels of magnesium can minimize the rate of less severe symptoms of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder.
Healthy people who eat a well balanced diet should not have a magnesium deficiency. In spite of that, there are a number of medical conditions that can cause low magnesium levels and an unbalanced diet can be a component of that.
A number of medical professionals suspect that low magnesium levels can be the source that causes a signifigant number of other medical conditions. You should speak to your physician about this topic.
You can also try taking supplements and making alterations to your diet to see if that will help you out.
As with the previous section with the foods that are high in iron. Some of these foods are also a good source of magnesium such as spinach and kale.
I recommend that you incorporate these vegetables into your diet. I eat plently of these vegetables on a consistent basis and they are extremely nutritious.
They will provide you both with vital nutrients and will help you manage this sleep disorder. So think of it as killing two birds with one stone. You win twice!
There are various types of medication that your physician can prescribe to you for primary restless legs syndrome. There are drugs referred to as “dopamine agonists”.
Dopamine is a very important neurotransmitter that is located in the brain. Like the way its name sounds, a dopamine agonist is a compound that works by activating dopamine receptors when no dopamine is present.
There are a few different types of dopamine agonists that are used to treat restless legs syndrome such as:
All of these medications can have notable side effects in some but, not all people. The side effects can include:
- Hallucinations, confusion or delusions.
- Drowsiness and sudden sleepiness.
- Lightheadedness or fainting because of low blood pressure.
- Migraines or headaches.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Even though these medications are not a cure, they can potentially be effective in easing the symptoms of this sleep disorder.
Yet, 5 to 7 percent of those who take these drugs over a long period of time can experience a growth in the symptoms.
Your physician can possibly prescribe a medication known as “Pregabalin”. This is anti-epileptic medication, yet it is prescribed for a number of different conditions.
Your doctor can also prescribe you benzodiazepines. These are sedative or painkiller type medications that minimize discomfort or stress.
The important thing to keep in mind when taking these types of medication is that they can cause adverse side effects such as sleepiness.
In some instances, these types of drugs can be addictive. Therefore, if you are taking these medications for the long run. The best course of action is to have periodic consultations with your physician as needed.
During 2014, a number of researchers compared the effects of a dopamine agonist drug known as “pramipexole” against a non-dopamine enhancement function known as “pregabalin”.
The results of the effects were disclosed in the New England Journal Of Medicine. Some of their discoveries questioned the that the types of medication used to treat the symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
Here are some of the interesting points about their discoveries:
- The effectiveness of the alternate medication increases uncertainity about the connection between dopamine levels located in the brain and restless legs syndrome.
- Pregabalin has no effect on dopamine levels, however the pregabalin drug was as successful in controlling the symptoms as the pramipexole drug.
- Depending on the dosage, using the pramipexole drug for a long time seems to increase the probability that the symptoms in some patients worsens when compared to the pregabalin drug.
- Numerous side effects were also less serious when taking the non-dopamine enhancement drug. Yet, there were some concerning mental state side effects that were observed when using this medication.
- Lastly, the researchers reported that the symptoms getting worse over a long period of time was a side effect of the drug, not the natural process of the condition.
During 2014, it was stated in a Reuters Health Article that the Institute For Safe Medication Practices in Alexandria, Virginia had discovered the following:
“Dopamine receptor agonist drugs were linked with higher risks for pathological gambling, hyper-sexuality and compulsive shopping in a new study”.
These potent drugs were primarily used for Parkinson’s disease. However, the report does say that they are occassionally used to treat restless legs syndrome. This is a very intricate zone.
In the event that you are currently taking these types of medication. It might be in your best interest to mention these new studies to your physician.
If you are experiencing adverse side effects or if you believe that your symptoms are worsening. Your doctor can either change your dosage level or the type of medication.
There needs to be more research done in order to recognize the best medication option that is needed to relieve the symptoms of this sleep disorder.
This research helps us further understand the limited knowledge we have on restless legs syndrome.
If the Counterstrain Manipulation technique listed above works, then this will raise some uncertainites on the impact that dopamine has on restless legs syndrome.
Restless Legs Syndrome is a frequent sleep disorder that happens to many people. It can happen as a symptom of from another medical condition.
You often can feel either a twitching or creepy crawly feeling in your legs. This sleep disorder can have an effect on your wellbeing and it is recommened to take care of the underlying cause before more severe health problems arise.
It could be the you need more iron and magnesium in your diet.
Take a look and try some of the home treatment options. These types of options are easily accessible and readily available to you to help ease the symptoms.
You can go into the medication route, however the newest research changes the view on which medication is the best to use.
What was your experience with restless legs syndrome?
What treatment methods have you tried?
Have you done anything different?
Please share your experience in the comments section below.
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