Lately, I’ve been waking in the middle of the night with this indescribable antsy feeling. The feeling is not in my mind, heart or soul, but in my body – specifically, in my legs.
Nothing is numb or tingling from laying the wrong way, nor is it a cramp. It almost feels that if I continued lying there, I might come out of my skin. The only solution is to get up, walk around and stretch; then, and only then, am I able to return to bed and fall back asleep. Sometimes this will happen several times in one night causing, me to be extremely tired the next day. Sometimes it happens when I’m just watching television in the evening. What I’ve learned is that I’m likely suffering from restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Causes and Risk Factors
More than 10% of the population suffers from RLS, and it can happen at any age – though it tends to be more severe in middle-aged and older adults. There is no known cause; however, researchers think an imbalance of dopamine in the brain could be the link, since that is the chemical responsible for communicating muscle movement. Researchers have established that RLS is hereditary, but the good news is that it is not a serious condition. Factors such as alcohol use and sleep deprivation can trigger RLS. Other related conditions such as iron deficiency, kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and damage to the nerves in the hands and feet can worsen RLS. There has also been evidence that anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotics, antidepressants and some cold and allergy medications can worsen symptoms as well.
Your doctor can determine if you have any underlying conditions – such as an iron or nutritional deficiency – that could be treated with supplements to help relieve restless leg syndrome symptoms. There have been some medications that seem to reduce restlessness, even though they were originally developed to treat other diseases like Parkinson’s or Epilepsy. Your doctor could also choose to prescribe muscle relaxers or sleep medications; while these don’t reduce the symptoms, they can foster a good night’s sleep.
Sometimes making some of your own changes can prove to be extremely beneficial. If your condition seems to be chronic (happening almost every night), identify behaviors in your routine that might be aggravating the symptoms. For example, caffeine, alcohol, exercise late in the day and stress can trigger or intensify symptoms. Therefore, consider cutting out coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, alcohol or any rigorous exercise several hours before bed. Instead, try a hot bath, massage, warm/cool packs or meditation and stretching to relax the mind and muscles prior to bed. If your condition is more random, taking an ibuprofen and stretching could relieve the sensations long enough to allow you to fall back asleep. Take note of the evening’s events to see if you can spot a pattern that might help you manage your restless leg syndrome.