Imagine trying to fall asleep only to have your legs decide to take on itchy, twitchy, painful sensations that you cannot control.
You shift to the left, shift to the right, kick your legs up and down, scratch your calves, and move your feet.
Maybe you pretend the sensations aren't real until you can't stand it anymore and you jump out of bed and start walking around just to calm yourself.
This is known as restless legs syndrome and for many it is a constant nightly struggle for relaxation and sleep.
While the sensations can be in other places such as the arms or torso, most people report that it occurs in the legs. This occurs most often when they are trying to relax, for instance, trying watching TV or reading a book, and when they're attempting to fall asleep.
It can occur at any age, however most report it starting around 40 years of age. The condition is incredibly genetic in that people often report several in their family are afflicted with the urge to move their legs.
While a lot of restless legs syndrome has no known reason, it can correlate to a host of other conditions such as low iron, thyroid problems, hypoglycemia, fibromyalgia, varicose veins, diabetes, Parkinson’s, celiac disease, Sjogren’s disease, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea and other nutrient deficiencies.
Certain medications are known to worsen restless legs syndrome, such as antihistamines (think allergy medications) and antidepressants.
There is no official test someone can do to determine restless legs syndrome, however the diagnostic criteria from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is as follows:
1) Symptoms are overall worse in the evening or at night
2) Characterized by an uncontrolled urge to move/shift/stretch the affected body part.
3) The symptoms usually occur when trying to fall asleep but may also occur during periods of relaxation or extended sitting or lying down.
4) The urge decreases or goes away completely with movement.
Treatment usually involves first addressing the underlying condition (if there is one) and supplementing with particular nutrients known to help improve restless leg such as iron (especially if a ferritin level is less than 50 ug/L), folate, magnesium, calcium, B-vitamins, selenium and vitamin D.
There are pharmaceutical medications known to help as well, however they are not over the counter so discuss your options with your health care provider.
If you are on an antihistamine for allergies, consider stopping it if you can but never stop an antidepressant medication without again consulting your health care provider.
The most common folk remedy for restless legs is to put an unwrapped bar of soap (brands and scents are hotly debated) under the sheets by your feet and go to sleep.
Many swear by this "remedy" while others finding it useless. Thankfully, soap is cheap so you can safely give it a try.
1) NINDS Restless Legs Syndrome Information Page. Web. 2 September, 2012.
2) Restless Legs Syndrome: Pathophysiology and the Role of Iron and Folate. Web. 2 September, 2012.
3) The effect of selenium administration on restless leg syndrome treatment. Web. 2 September, 2012.
4) Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in restless legs syndrome patients. Web. 2 September, 2012.
Reviewed September 4, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith