Imagine stretching out to relax in bed, looking forward to a full night of sound and peaceful sleep. Not long after you slide beneath the covers, you start to experience a creeping, crawling sensation running through your legs. It’s uncomfortable and persistent. Your legs tingle up and down, and it feels as though something is pulling or tugging at your legs from the inside. You start shaking your legs to try to relieve your discomfort—you can’t not shake your legs, the urge is so strong to move them. Moving your legs helps for a brief bit of time. But as soon as you stop kicking and shaking your legs around, the creep, crawly, tingly feelings return. Night after night, these sensations return, making hard to fall asleep and even tougher to stay asleep throughout the night.
That’s the reality for people with Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS. Their symptoms are usually at their worst at night, when they’re trying to relax and get some rest. RLS symptoms might be very mild or non-existent during a busy, active day—but as soon as you put your feet up to unwind, or climb into bed, the discomfort can start. (RLS tends to flare up with inactivity, so people who sit for long periods during the day might have symptoms like the typical nighttime ones.)
It’s little wonder that people with RLS have such a tough time sleeping well. With RLS, you’re prone to waking up a lot throughout the night, in addition to having trouble falling asleep. All this sleep disruption can leave you feeling tired and fatigued during the daytime, with difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
Many people with RLS don’t know they have the disorder. They’re living with all the discomfort, but without a diagnosis and the treatments that can improve how they feel and how they sleep. Scientists estimate that about 1 in 10 adults may suffer from RLS. Doctors diagnose RLS primarily based on its distinctive symptoms—those uncomfortable leg sensations and the uncontrollable need to move the legs that goes along with them. Scientists don’t know yet what causes RLS. There’s a strong family connection to the condition—research has found that more than 70% of children with RLS have at least one parent who also has the disorder—and scientists are exploring possible genetic causes.
RLS is usually treated on a number of different fronts at once—with medication as well as lifestyle and behavioral changes, and other therapies including:
- Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
- Moderate exercise
- Supplements, including iron, magnesium, and folate
- Hot and cold therapy
The National Sleep Foundation has a series of tips and resources for people who are living with RLS. If you feel that you, or someone in your family, is experiencing the symptoms of RLS, speak with your doctor. There’s relief to be found in treatment and help in managing symptoms so you can rest better at night and feel more energized and alert during the day.