Sleep can be a blessed relief at the end of a long and tiring day, but those who suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS) may not get the refreshing rest that they need.
What is RLS?
According to the National Institute on Aging, about 15% of Americans who are 80 years or older suffer from restless leg syndrome, a condition in which people experience various forms of discomfort, such as tingling, crawling, burning, aching, or pins and needles in their legs. This neurological disorder evokes a strong urge to move the legs and occurs most often when the body is inactive – meaning that it tends to strike at night as people are lying in bed. For many people, RLS is severe enough that it has a strong impact on their ability to fall asleep or to stay asleep.
Some forms of RLS seem to be genetic, occurring in families. In these instances, it tends to strike earlier – often before a person has turned 45 – and can worsen with age.
More often, RLS occurs after age 45 and has a fairly abrupt onset; in these cases, RLS does not typically worsen, and in many cases it can be treated. In these cases, RLS is typically associated with triggers such as kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, or iron deficiency.
A doctor can provide the best advice on treatment options for special care of RLS. Some of the most common include:
- Going hot and cold. Applying hot compresses and ice packs alternately to the muscles affected by RLS often helps to prevent the symptoms from occurring.
- Massages. Massaging the muscles or using a whirlpool can also help to prevent the pain of RLS.
- Exercise and recover. Gentle exercise of the legs can often help, provided that it is not performed too close to bedtime. A routine of leg stretches or walking for half an hour can help to keep the muscles active; allowing time to then relax (perhaps including soaking the legs in warm water) is also advised.
- Up the vitamin intake. If RLS is caused by a deficiency in vitamins or minerals, adding appropriate supplements (such as iron if iron deficient, etc.) can make a difference.
- Cut out. Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can worsen RLS, so decreasing or cutting out intake of these will make sleep easier.
For many, the most important alteration may simply be adjusting their sleep environment. Making sure that the room has a comfortable temperature, sheets and covers are soft, mattress and pillow are comfortable, and that there aren’t distracting lights in the room can all help to make sleep come more easily and enable a person to be less affected by RLS.