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, Healthyinfo 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
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
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.
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 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.
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