Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes irritation in your legs, sometimes described as a burning or itching sensation, followed by an uncontrollable urge to move them. The symptoms tend to get worse once you lay down to rest, which may cause trouble sleeping.
Patients often find it hard to describe the symptoms. However, to be diagnosed, the following conditions must be met:
- An overwhelming urge to move the legs, along with an irritating sensation in legs
- The urge or sensation gets worse during sleep or in a rest position
- The urge or sensation wears off once you move (e.g. walk, stretch), for at least as long as the movement continues
- The urge or sensation gets worse in the evening or during the night, or only emerges at those hours
Although the sensation most often originates in the legs, the symptoms can also occur in other body parts, such as your arms.
Most people wait years to seek help regarding restless legs syndrome, as they have a hard time describing the symptoms and do not consider them to be of any concern. Sadly, the symptoms usually get more frequent and severe if left untreated. Most people seek help because their sleep suffers greatly. People with severe cases often sleep less than five hours a night, and their sleep quality is also poor. Excessive daytime sleepiness and mental problems, such as depression and anxiety, are also common complications. However, in some cases, the symptoms of restless legs syndrome are mild and will eventually go away. In that case, no treatment is needed.
Restless legs syndrome is a common disorder, affecting about 5-20% of all people, although women seem about twice as likely to develop the syndrome. It tends to first emerge around the age of 40. The syndrome is also highly common during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, but usually wears off once it has run its course. Restless legs syndrome is hereditary, although anyone can develop the disorder.
Several ways have proved to be successful when treating the disorder. Substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol should be avoided, as they can increase the symptoms. Exercising regularly and massaging the legs can also help. There is also a variety of medications available, but those should never be consumed without consulting a doctor first.
References and further information about sleep paralysis can be found on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s website: