Are Restless Legs Keeping You Awake?

Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is classified as a neurological disorder, estimated to affect some 12 million people in the U.S. alone.

Characterized by strong, uncomfortable sensations in the legs (and sometimes the arms), an irresistible urge to move the extremities usually occurs when the person is at rest, sitting or lying down :

This urge presents itself differently in each person with some of the most common sensations described as crawling, soreness, itching, pulling, tingling, spasms and cramping in the legs.

For some, it is extremely painful. For those afflicted, sleeping can escalate from difficult to impossible.

A number of experts believe that restless leg syndrome is caused by low levels of dopamine (a chemical that transmits signals between your brain and nerve cells), although the trigger behind these low dopamine levels is unknown.

However, there are a number of risk factors which make you more likely to develop RLS.

  • Age: Restless leg syndrome is much more common in older adults.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Approximately 25% of the children who develop ADHD also have restless leg syndrome.
  • Family History:About two-thirds of those with RLS have a family history of the disorder.
  • Gender: There is a higher incidence in women than in men.
  • Kidney Dialysis: Approximately 40% of people who undergo kidney dialysis develop RLS.
  • Nutrient Deficiency: People who are deficient in iron, magnesium and vitamin B9 are at a higher risk.
  • Medications: Certain medications, including some antidepressants, antihistamines and antipsychotic drugs, have been linked with an increased risk.
  • Pregnancy:Around 20% of women develop restless leg syndrome at some point during their pregnancy. In most cases, however, the RLS is temporary and disappears within one month of the baby being born.
  • Race:The condition is much more common in Northern and Western Europe than other parts of the world.

RLS can be treated naturally in many cases. Suggestions include the following:

  • Cut Back On Alcohol, Caffeine & Smoking: Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are all contributing stimulants of RLS. Cutting back, especially at night, can bring quite a bit of relief.
  • Establish regular sleeping cycles: Fatigue can make the symptoms of restless leg syndrome worse, so if you’re constantly feeling tired and run down, making the effort to get more sleep can help.
To improve the quality of your sleep, try to establish a regular sleep cycle by going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning.
  • Exercise Regularly: Keeping your legs moving prevents the symptoms of restless leg syndrome from setting in. The best part is that regular exercise also reduces the severity of the symptoms and makes RLS more manageable while you are relaxing.
  • Improve Your Diet: Is there anything that can’t be improved by a better diet?
As mentioned, a deficiency in iron, magnesium or vitamin B9 is a contributing factor for RLS.The good news is that once you’ve identified this deficiency, supplements (with your Doctor’s approval) and eating more nutrient-rich foods can prevent or reverse RLS.

Sources of Iron:

The richest sources of iron include chicken livers, beef, clams, oysters and dark meat turkey. Plant products, such as dried beans, lentils, spinach and raisins are also worthy of consideration.

Sources of Magnesium:

Foods such as spinach, potatoes, beans and peas all contain magnesium. Whole grains products (made using the entire seed of a plant) also provide magnesium to help reach the recommended daily intake of 310 to 400 mg per day for adults.

Sources of Vitamin B-9 (Folate):

Natural sources of Folate include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, citrus fruits and fruit juices and dried beans such as great northern beans. Foods fortified with folic acid include breakfast cereals and enriched breads, rice and pastas.

Although nutrients are used more effectively by our bodies when eaten in their natural forms, some medical conditions may restrict the types of foods chosen.

If you feel you would benefit from vitamin/mineral supplements to help relieve your symptoms, start a conversation with your physician and explore your options.

As with almost all unpleasant medical conditions, positive lifestyle choices can be very beneficial and reduce many of the negative symptoms.

The goal of any treatment is to improve your quality of life, and you deserve it.