Many people suffer from a sleep disorder, most commonly sleep deprivation.
But, sleep deprivation is hardly ever experienced in isolation. Instead, it is usually comorbid with many other disorders, making it difficult to treat.
One particular sleep disorder that is associated with sleep deprivation is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). People who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome often find it difficult to fall asleep due to an incessant urge to move parts of their body, typically their legs.
In this article, we give a brief overview of this sleep disorder, focusing on its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome is usually distinguished as either primary or secondary. Primary Restless Leg Syndrome is considered idiopathic, which means its origins are unknown, though many theories have been proposed.
In particular, many people with iron deficiency also report symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome, and vice versa. While a causal link cannot be definitively deduced from this correlation, it’s a telling indication that many of the common symptoms of iron deficiency and Restless Leg Syndrome overlap.
Some doctors think that rather than being its own disorder, Restless Leg Syndrome is just one symptom of ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which many researchers think has a genetic basis.
This confirms the finding that almost half of people with Restless Leg Syndrome have family members who suffer from it, making it likely inherited.
Secondary Restless Leg Syndrome is used to demarcate people who suffer from the disorder after the age of 40.
In these cases, the disorder progresses rapidly and is usually linked to the ingestion of certain medications, like antipsychotics, antidepressants and antihistamines.
Alternatively, Restless Leg Syndrome has been linked to withdrawal from more addictive drugs like benzodiazepines, opioids, and alcohol.
Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms
The distinguishing characteristic of Restless Leg Syndrome is an unnerving, indescribable compulsion to move any part of the body. This is usually reported in the legs or lower half of the body, though arms are also frequently reported.
Many people who suffer from it liken the feeling to that of a limb falling asleep, or an incessant tickling or buzzing. This can be relieved with movement, though the relief is only temporary, as the urge returns when the affected region is still again.
Some associated symptoms include daytime fatigue, anxiety, irritability, slowed metabolism, and even depression.
The symptoms are extremely unique to each affected person, as some people claim Restless Leg Syndrome is a minor inconvenience while others describe it as profoundly unsettling and life-altering.
Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment
In some cases, Restless Leg Syndrome can be easily treated, especially when there is an underlying nutritional deficiency like an iron deficiency. In these cases, nutritional supplementation usually eliminates all symptoms within several weeks.
In other cases, nutritional supplementation is helpful but does not totally eliminate the symptoms.
For these cases, various physical therapy options are available that involve stretching the affected limb, massages, baths, and heating pads. These kinds of treatments are unique to the person and usually involve indulging the underlying compulsion.
Thus, if the person feels desperately like going for a walk, or itching some region, then this is usually advised within moderation.
Yet, these treatments are very short-term, and many people complain that they desire more permanent relief. In these cases, medication for Restless Leg Syndrome is tentatively prescribed, specifically drugs that activate dopamine receptors in the brain.
This is because dopamine is often linked to states of happiness and wellbeing. Part of the treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome thus entails accepting that the underlying itch may never cease.
Instead, the affected person focuses on improving their quality of life.
Our Final Thoughts on Restless Leg Syndrome
This is certainly a disturbing sleep disorder that can affect all areas of your life. We can’t imagine a more unnerving set of symptoms.
Yet, it seems likely that many people who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome can lessen their symptoms by focusing on other areas of mental health, specifically if there is underlying ADHD or depression.
Still, people with secondary Restless Leg Syndrome are in a tough spot. Even though we don’t usually recommend restless leg syndrome medications for sleep disorders, this seems to be a specialized case where medication might be the only route, especially if symptoms progress to an unbearable level.*
In some of the cases, we wonder if a modern society predicated on sedentary activity is the root cause.
Perhaps the compulsion to move should be temporarily indulged before a formal diagnosis is proffered. Often times stagnation can force the body to communicate with the ego in any way it can. Sometimes this might take the form of an itching, buzzing, or tingling.
*”The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, treatment and diagnosis.”
Feature image via Daily Express