Rest­less legs syn­drome is an unpleas­ant con­di­tion when you real­ly want to sleep, and at the same time the legs live their own busy lives, pre­vent­ing their own­er from falling asleep. What is this syn­drome and how can you cope with rest­less legs, Med­AboutMe fig­ured out.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?

With rest­less legs syn­drome, a per­son suf­fers from a vari­ety of unpleas­ant sen­sa­tions in the legs. These sen­sa­tions include itch­ing, burn­ing, tin­gling, goose­bumps, a feel­ing of full­ness or, con­verse­ly, squeez­ing. RLS most com­mon­ly affects the low­er legs, but it can spread to the thighs and even the arms. In most cas­es, RLS affects both limbs, but it can also be uni­lat­er­al. At the peak of dis­com­fort come in the peri­od from 22 pm to 2 am.

The first doc­u­ment­ed men­tion of a dis­ease that man­i­fests itself as unpleas­ant sen­sa­tions in the legs, makes the patient move and does not allow sleep, occurs in 1685. But the actu­al term “rest­less legs” was pro­posed in 1045 by a neu­rol­o­gist from Swe­den K.A. Ekbom. There­fore, this pathol­o­gy is also called Ekbom’s syn­drome.

This dis­ease is com­mon, but it is diag­nosed quite rarely. Russ­ian sci­en­tists from the I.M. Sechen­ov Moscow Med­ical Acad­e­my in their arti­cle for 2009 cite data that 81% of peo­ple who go to the doc­tor with man­i­fes­ta­tions of RLS receive an incor­rect diag­no­sis or are left with­out one at all. And only in 8% of cas­es, doc­tors cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fy the prob­lem.

Over­all, 2% to 10% of the pop­u­la­tion suf­fers from RLS. More often these are women and peo­ple aged: in the age cat­e­go­ry 65+, 10–30% of the pop­u­la­tion suf­fers from RLS. But Ekbom’s syn­drome can also devel­op in chil­dren. In addi­tion, dur­ing the peri­od of bear­ing a child, every fourth woman suf­fers from RLS, and most often the dis­ease over­takes expec­tant moth­ers in the third trimester and dis­ap­pears after child­birth.

Doc­tors advise the fol­low­ing ways to com­bat the man­i­fes­ta­tions of rest­less legs syn­drome.

Check the level of iron in the blood

Check the level of iron in the blood

One pos­si­ble cause of RLS may be low iron lev­els in the blood. We need iron to pro­duce recep­tors for the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter dopamine. If there are few such recep­tors, dopamin­er­gic neu­rons work with impair­ments. In addi­tion, iron is involved in the process of myeli­na­tion — the for­ma­tion of a myelin “insu­lat­ing” sheath around the process­es of neu­rons. There­fore, its lack affects the con­duc­tion of the nerve impulse. By the way, iron defi­cien­cy is the cause of a quar­ter of cas­es of RLS in preg­nant women.

In case of iron defi­cien­cy (the con­cen­tra­tion of its fer­ritin com­pound in serum is less than 50 mcg / l), the doc­tor may pre­scribe med­ica­tions with fer­ritin.

Check your medications

A group of sci­en­tists from India and Ger­many, in an August 2016 arti­cle, list med­ica­tions that have rest­less leg syn­drome as side effects or that may exac­er­bate exist­ing RLS. These are some anti­de­pres­sants, antipsy­chotics, beta-block­ers, dopamine antag­o­nists, anti-nau­sea drugs, anti­his­t­a­mines, anti­con­vul­sants, L‑thyroxine, lithi­um.

If you are tak­ing any of the above and are suf­fer­ing from RLS, you should talk to your doc­tor about a replace­ment.

Changing sleep and wake patterns

Doc­tors rec­om­mend that peo­ple suf­fer­ing from RLS try to go to bed lat­er and wake up lat­er in order to main­tain the required amount of sleep. This will allow you to make up for the time lost in the evening in the morn­ing dur­ing a good sleep.

At the same time, the new reg­i­men (or the pre­vi­ous one) should be strict­ly adhered to — this facil­i­tates the process of falling asleep. In no case should RLS reduce the dura­tion of sleep below the estab­lished norms, that is, sleep less than 7–9 hours. Sleep depri­va­tion exac­er­bates rest­less legs syn­drome.

Warm bath before bed

Warm bath before bed

The best way to relax the mus­cles, relieve spasm of mus­cle fibers is to take a warm bath. But not hot. A warm bath is known to improve sleep in gen­er­al, and this is espe­cial­ly true in the case of RLS.

Stretching before bed

Before you lie down, take 5–10 min­utes of light stretch­ing. You can do it after a warm bath, when the mus­cles and lig­a­ments are warmed up. There is no need to make sud­den move­ments — only sta­t­ic exer­cis­es.

The main goal is to stretch the calves and thigh mus­cles. This can be done with lunges, keep­ing the back leg straight; slopes to the front leg with a straight set back; folds with socks stretched over them­selves, etc.

Stretch­ing should be done on both legs on both sides.

Physical activity during the day

Not only stretch­ing before bed, but also suf­fi­cient phys­i­cal activ­i­ty dur­ing the day can reduce the symp­toms of RLS. We are talk­ing about mod­er­ate reg­u­lar phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, which should end no lat­er than 3–4 hours before bed­time. Research shows that any form of exer­cise reduces leg mobil­i­ty in peo­ple with RLS and results in deep­er, longer sleep.

So, in 2006, sci­en­tists from Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty in their arti­cle pro­vid­ed evi­dence that even half an hour of aer­o­bic train­ing three times a week with weights of the low­er extrem­i­ties sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces the man­i­fes­ta­tions of RLS.

Avoiding caffeine

Any caf­feinat­ed bev­er­ages (cof­fee, tea, cola, choco­late) pro­vide a burst of ener­gy and exac­er­bate the symp­toms of RLS with­in a few hours after drink­ing (for some peo­ple, the dura­tion of caf­feine effect can be up to 12 hours).

Stress management

Stress exac­er­bates the symp­toms of RLS. If the day turned out to be dif­fi­cult, be sure to take time to relieve stress. It can be breath­ing exer­cis­es, med­i­ta­tion. Before going to bed, you can dim the lights, turn off the TV with dis­turb­ing blue light and pan­ic news, lis­ten to relax­ing, sooth­ing music.

Foot massage

As men­tioned above, rest­less legs syn­drome most often affects the calves. To reduce the symp­toms of RLS, you can mas­sage the calves before bed and add foot mas­sage to them. If pos­si­ble, ask some­one close to mas­sage your shoul­ders and neck as well — this also relieves ten­sion and reduces stress.


  • In the vast major­i­ty of cas­es, the man­i­fes­ta­tions of rest­less legs syn­drome can be dealt with with­out med­ica­tion, only through the above meth­ods.
  • How­ev­er, in 10–15% of cas­es, med­ical treat­ment may be nec­es­sary. But it should be borne in mind that such ther­a­py can only be symp­to­matic, it will not relieve the syn­drome itself and will there­fore be life­long.

Exer­cise and rest­less legs syn­drome: a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al. / Auk­er­man MM, et al. // J Am Board Fam Med. - 2006 Sep-Oct - 19(5):487–93

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