Restless Leg Syndrome and Sleep

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological disorder that significantly affects sleep quality and overall quality of life. In this blog post, we will delve into understanding RLS, its impact on sleep, and the various ways to manage and treat this condition.

Understanding Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome is a condition characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually due to uncomfortable sensations.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

  • Uncomfortable Sensations: People with RLS often describe sensations in their legs such as crawling, itching, pulling, or throbbing.
  • Urge to Move: There is an overwhelming urge to move the legs to relieve these sensations.
  • Symptoms Worsen at Rest: Symptoms typically occur when the individual is resting, sitting, or lying down, and are temporarily relieved by movement.
  • Evening and Nighttime Symptoms: RLS symptoms often worsen in the evening and during the night.

Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome

While the exact cause of RLS is often unknown, several factors are associated with its development:

  • Genetics: RLS can run in families, especially if it begins at a younger age.
  • Neurological Imbalance: An imbalance of dopamine, a brain chemical that helps control muscle movement, is believed to play a role.
  • Iron Deficiency: Low levels of iron in the brain may be associated with RLS.
  • Chronic Conditions: Certain chronic diseases like kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy are often associated with RLS.

Impact of Restless Leg Syndrome on Sleep

RLS can have a significant impact on both the ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep.

Sleep Onset and Maintenance

The sensations and the urge to move the legs make it difficult for individuals with RLS to fall asleep and stay asleep. This results in prolonged sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and frequent awakenings during the night.

Sleep Quality and Daytime Functioning

Due to disrupted sleep, individuals with RLS often experience poor sleep quality, leading to daytime fatigue, decreased alertness, and impaired cognitive function.

Secondary Health Issues

Chronic sleep deprivation due to RLS can contribute to a variety of health issues such as mood disorders, decreased immune function, and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Diagnosing Restless Leg Syndrome

Diagnosing RLS can be challenging as there is no specific test for it. Diagnosis is primarily based on patient history and symptom description.

Clinical Criteria for Diagnosis

According to the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group, certain criteria must be met for a diagnosis of RLS:

  • Urge to Move the Legs: Usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations.
  • Symptoms Begin or Worsen During Periods of Rest or Inactivity: Such as lying down or sitting.
  • Partial or Total Relief by Movement: Such as walking or stretching.
  • Symptoms Worsen in the Evening or Night: Symptoms are not solely present during the day.

Other Tests

While there’s no specific test for RLS, certain tests can be helpful in identifying underlying conditions. These may include blood tests to check iron levels and tests to rule out other conditions like neuropathy or kidney issues.

Treatment and Management of Restless Leg Syndrome

There is no cure for RLS, but several treatments can help manage symptoms and improve sleep.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

  • Regular Exercise: Moderate exercise can help, but excessive exercise may worsen RLS symptoms.
  • Good Sleep Hygiene: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can alleviate symptoms.
  • Avoiding Triggers: Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can aggravate RLS symptoms.


Various medications can be used to treat RLS:

  • Dopaminergic Agents: These drugs increase dopamine levels and are often the first choice in treating RLS.
  • Iron Supplementation: If tests show low levels of iron, supplementation might be recommended.
  • Anticonvulsants: These can help alleviate sensory symptoms like the crawling or nerve pain associated with RLS.
  • Benzodiazepines: Occasionally used to help with sleep, although they can sometimes worsen RLS symptoms.

Other Therapies

  • Massage and Hot Baths: Can provide temporary relief from discomfort.
  • Compression Socks or Wraps: Some find relief from sensory symptoms with gentle pressure on the legs.

Living with Restless Leg Syndrome

Living with RLS requires adopting strategies to manage symptoms effectively.

Education and Support

Understanding the condition and joining support groups can help individuals cope with the challenges of RLS.

Regular Medical Follow-Up

Regular check-ups with healthcare providers are important to monitor the condition and adjust treatments as needed.

Mental Health Considerations

Due to the chronic nature of RLS and its impact on sleep, attention to mental health is crucial. Techniques like stress management, counseling, or therapy can be beneficial.

Navigating Restless Leg Syndrome for Better Sleep

In conclusion, Restless Leg Syndrome is a challenging condition that can significantly impact sleep and overall quality of life. Through a combination of lifestyle modifications, medical treatments, and supportive therapies, individuals with RLS can manage their symptoms and improve their sleep quality. If you suspect you have RLS, consult with a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Remember, while RLS is a lifelong condition, effective management can greatly enhance sleep quality and overall well-being.