It’s 3:00 a.m. and all you really want to do is get some sleep, but the uncontrollable need to move your legs makes sleep all but impossible. Known as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), this compelling desire to move often occurs at nighttime and at other times when the body is at rest, such as when sitting or lying down for an extended period. About 10% of Americans experience symptoms that some find hard to describe, an estimate that may be low as some may not realize that their irritating symptoms have a name. Unlike a muscle cramp or spasm, the symptoms of RLS are more akin to abnormal, very unpleasant sensations, often occurring in the legs, that are temporarily relieved by movement. The pelvis, lower back or neck, and the entire body can also be affected. Some, but not all, may also experience aching, throbbing or a crawling sensation. However, all consistently describe the inability to be still and rest, and the relief that comes with movement.
Although this neurological sensorimotor disorder occurs more often in women and is more common with increasing age, RLS can also develop during childhood, puberty, pregnancy or menopause. Many people who develop primary RLS have a familial genetic history. Risk factors for secondary RLS include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol and caffeine use, and medical conditions, such as diabetes and anemia, as well as kidney and Parkinson’s diseases. Iron deficiency and certain medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines and pain medications, are also thought to play a role. RLS is a chronic condition currently without cure, so symptom management is critical to prevent poor sleep quality, insomnia related daytime drowsiness and overall poor health.
While no laboratory tests or imaging can diagnose RLS, self-diagnosis can identify the mild to severe characteristic symptoms:
- Leg discomfort accompanied by an irresistible urge to flex or move the legs
- Temporary relief that comes with movement
- Symptoms that increase as evening approaches
- Symptoms that worsen when resting or getting ready to sleep
- Difficulty falling asleep due to inability to lie still and relax
Often those with RLS have another condition known as periodic limb movement disorder, symptomized by repetitive involuntary jerking movements, which can also disrupt sleep. RLS symptoms may appear occasionally or a few times a week, and in more severe cases, nightly or several times each day. Prescription medications that act on dopamine receptors in the brain may help some sufferers. Lifestyle changes may help those with mild symptoms deal with the discomfort:
- Sedentary habits can trigger symptoms. Thirty minutes to one hour of daily activity that stimulates the legs is a practical solution that also supports dopamine production. Daily stretching or yoga is helpful. Walking at an easy pace appears to be more effective than more vigorous workouts. However, exercise late in the day should be avoided.
- A warm relaxing soak in a tub or whirlpool helps the body and muscles to relax, effectively reducing symptoms. Add in two cups of Epsom salts, a natural anti-inflammatory that contains high amounts of magnesium sulfate, to help calm nerves and relax the muscles. Soak for 30 minutes a few hours before bedtime to aid restful sleep.
- Deficiencies in vitamins C, D, and E are often seen in those with RLS. In addition to iron insufficiency, dopamine deficiency is a risk factor for RLS, as well as for Parkinson’s. As iron is essential for dopamine synthesis, those with anemia are prone to RLS. While it’s helpful for those with RLS to know their ferritin level, iron supplementation should only be undertaken under a healthcare provider’s recommendation.
- Consider the possibility of food sensitivities, which can cause an autoimmune response that can trigger RLS. An exclusion diet can help to identity food sensitivities.
- Eat whole foods high in magnesium, potassium and calcium to avoid electrolyte imbalances. Include foods such as leafy greens, avocado and sweet potatoes. Help keep blood sugar balanced by consuming unprocessed whole grains. B-complex vitamins are essential for neurological health and help to maintain normal nerve functioning. Beef, poultry, and seafood are good sources of iron and B vitamins. Consume healthy fats that can help lower inflammation linked to RLS.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality supplements to help support restful sleep and overall good health:
Magnesium Glycinate by Douglas Laboratories – One serving provides 100 mg of bioavailable elemental magnesium in support of numerous physiological functions including normal heart, muscle and nerve function, bone health support and restful sleep. Gluten, soy, yeast, sugar and dairy free, vegan formulation.
B Complex Plus by Pure Encapsulations – This exceptional formula provides a combination of B vitamins in optimal bioavailable forms in support of nervous system function, energy metabolism, hemoglobin formation and hormone synthesis. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Super D3 by Allergy Research Group – This synergistic formula provides bioavailable forms of vitamins D3, C and E in support of healthy blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Naturally sourced from sheep wool lanolin.
Cal/Mag/Potassium by Progena – This specifically formulated nutritional product supplies calcium, magnesium and potassium in support of healthy vascular function, healthy bone and kidney function and proper electrolyte balance. Gluten, soy, yeast and dairy free, vegan formulation.
Buffered Ascorbic Acid by Pure Encapsulations – This product combines calcium, magnesium and potassium ascorbates to create a neutral pH vitamin C. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Restless legs syndrome. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20031101
Tips for Better Sleep for RLS Sufferers. http://www.healthline.com/health/restless-leg-syndrome/sleep-tips
Restless legs linked to broken hearts. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/restless-legs-linked-to-broken-hearts-201209265338
14 Natural Ways To Deal With Restless Legs Syndrome. http://www.prevention.com/health/14-natural-ways-to-deal-with-restless-legs-syndrome