Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and sleep

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a widespread disease that significantly affects not only health but also sleep. You can find out here why those affected have a painful urge to move their legs and how sleep can be improved with RLS.

Table of Contents

  1. The Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

  2. Cause, symptoms and consequences of RLS

    1. Symptoms

    2. Causes & influencing factors

  3. RLS as a sleep disorder

  4. Therapy & Help

  5. Conclusion

1. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless or restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects approximately 3% – 10% of people. You suffer from unpleasant sensations in your legs, arms or back, which are often described as painful or cramp-like pulling, tingling, stabbing or tearing. In addition, there is usually an intense urge to move the legs. The symptoms can appear unilaterally, bilaterally or alternating on one side or the other and are particularly common in the evening and at night. It is also typical for RLS that the pain increases when resting or lying down and can be relieved by changing position or moving the affected areas.

Due to the increased urge to move and the pain that occurs especially in the evening, those affected are often unable to rest at all. Sleep is also significantly disrupted and sleep disorders occur, which quickly lead to a pronounced lack of sleep, daytime tiredness and increased exhaustion. Restless Legs Syndrome is a serious illness that can severely impact your health and well-being in several ways.

2. Symptoms, causes & consequences of Restless Legs Syndrome

Schlafmagazin: Restless Leg Syndrome RLS, Schlafstörung

Symptoms of RLS

The symptoms often occur in the evening or at night and are described differently by those affected. In general, RLS is characterized by the following signs:

  • Unpleasant to painful sensations in the legs and/or arms, ranging from mild tingling to cramp-like pain

  • Strong urge to move, which occurs more often when sitting or lying down

  • The symptoms occur frequently or only at night and can be alleviated by moving the affected areas

Causes & influencing factors for RLS

Although many people are affected by RLS, the cause of the unpleasant leg pain is not yet fully understood. A possible explanation could be a disturbed dopamine metabolism in the brain. Dopamine is a messenger substance that transmits motor stimuli in the body and thus helps regulate movement control. RLS also often occurs together with iron or vitamin B12 deficiency, impaired kidney function or during pregnancy. Taking certain medications can also make symptoms worse. However, what exactly lies behind this still needs to be further investigated.

Possible causes & influencing factors at a glance

  • Limited or weakened kidney function

  • Iron deficiency and/or vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Nerve or joint damage

  • Pregnancy

3. RLS as a sleep disorder

Schlafmagazin: Restless Leg Syndrome RLS, Schlafstörung, Durchschlaf-Problem

Restless Legs Syndrome can also be referred to in a broader sense as Sleep disorder. The pain and the strong urge to move, which mainly occur when resting and at night, quickly lead to problems falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. Those affected cannot rest in the evening and fall asleep or often wake up from sleep and have to get out of bed to reduce the pain by moving and stretching the affected body parts.

The constantly interrupted sleep structure then of course prevents those affected from getting enough deep sleep and regenerating sufficiently, so that RLS symptoms often result in daytime tiredness, states of exhaustion and a chronic lack of sleep. In this case, it is all the more important to see a doctor and counteract the symptoms with appropriate treatment.

4. Therapy and help

Because the exact cause of the disease is not known, restless leg syndrome cannot be completely cured. However, it is quite possible to alleviate the symptoms and be able to better regulate the urge to move in the evening. Controlling and normalizing iron metabolism or balancing dopamine levels in the brain have proven to be helpful therapy in many cases. However, you should only take iron supplements or medicines with dopamine active ingredients in consultation with your doctor.

In addition to drug therapy, those affected can also take active action against their pain themselves. Sufficient physical exercise in everyday life, cold therapy, contrast showers, massaging/brushing the painful parts of the body or certain stretching exercises are simple measures that lead to a slight improvement in many of those affected.

In the evening, good sleep hygiene can help you get to sleep better and have the most restful night possible despite frequent awakenings. In addition, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine consumption should be limited, as these substances have an additional negative impact on muscle movement and sleep.

Our sleep tip: If you wake up at night and need to move briefly, you should avoid bright light and strenuous activities. Also, try not to put yourself under any additional pressure so that you can relax better and get back to sleep quickly.

5. Conclusion

  • Restless Legs Syndrome leads to painful sensations and movement disorders in the legs, which occur particularly at night and when at rest and are improved by exercise.
  • RLS often occurs with iron deficiency, impaired dopamine metabolism and kidney problems.
  • The symptoms of RLS often lead to sleep disorders, which result in daytime sleepiness and exhaustion.
  • Therapy with dopamine or iron preparations and simple self-help measures such as sufficient exercise, contrast showers or cold therapy can reduce the symptoms.

Greetings and see you soon!


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