What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Last updated: April 1, 2017
Restless Leg Syndrome

Do you have trouble getting to sleep because you have a “weird” feeling in your legs?

You probably have a case of Restless Leg Syndrome.​

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?​

It is technically a disorder of the nervous system that falls under the category of sleep disorders since you usually suffer from it at night when trying to fall asleep.

Also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, it is that funny feeling in the legs that sits somewhere between “pins and needles” and an itch that you just can’t seem to scratch.

Most people just have a mild case where it’s just an annoying discomfort. Others have a more severe form that makes it impossible to fall asleep.​


What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome is a very misunderstood disorder. What causes it is not fully understood. One thing seems to be certain, it is likely to be genetic since those that have it usually have somebody in the family that also suffers from it.

From the studies that have been done, these are the main factors that coincide with RLS:

Chronic Diseases

​Those with some chronic diseases have symptoms that include RLS. Iron deficiencies, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, and diabetes usually include RLS. When these diseases are treated, the RLS usually subsides, giving patients much needed sleep.


Many people taking antidepressants report feeling Restless Leg Syndrome after taking the drugs.​

Sometimes, antihistamines can bring on symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome. If you are taking an allergy medicine and find yourself suffering from RLS, then that is likely the cause.​


One of the most common complaints among pregnant women is RLS. There are so many things going on in a pregnant woman’s body that keep them uncomfortable and awake. RLS is not typically the worst of the ailments; however, it is one that definitely can impact how much sleep a woman gets.​

A vicious cycle associated with RLS is that it can be brought on by sleep deprivation. But, ironically, it can also be the cause of the sleep deprivation. It’s a difficult cycle to break.​

How do you know if you have Restless Leg Syndrome?

There is no tried and true medical test that can be given to determine if you have RLS. The diagnosis is typically made using a process of elimination. Blood tests will be given to rule out other disorders. After the tests, doctors will try to uncover if you have RLS in your family medical history or if you are on certain drugs that may cause symptoms.

Once they narrow down the possibilities, if RLS is the last one left standing, it becomes clear that is your disorder. You may be sent to a sleep clinic to do a sleep study to determine if you actually have RLS or if it is another type of sleep disorder.

How to Get Rid Of Restless Leg Syndrome

There is no known cure for Restless Leg Syndrome. You can only treat it to control it. If your RLS is mild, some changes to your lifestyle can ease the symptoms. Eliminating alcohol and caffeine is a good starting point. Sometimes, it is the anxiety brought on by caffeine that can lead to RLS. In addition, alcohol might be a reason you aren’t sleeping well which might also contribute to RLS.

Getting into an exercise routine can also alleviate RLS. Improved circulation in your legs can reduce that itchy feeling deep under your skin that can drive you crazy.

If these suggested changes to your lifestyle don’t work, it’s time to get a little more proactive in reducing RLS. Try a hot bath before bed followed by a leg massage with some essential oils. Lavender and chamomile oils mixed with a carrier oil and rubbed into the leg muscles can help to calm that itchy feeling you get from RLS.

Putting heating pads on your legs when you go to sleep can also help. Try alternating heating pads with ice packs for symptoms that are a little more than mild.

If none of those methods work, then it’s time to bring out the big guns. Dopaminergic drugs are usually prescribed to treat against RLS. Since it is a neurological disorder, the dopaminergic drugs act on the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

Sedatives can also be used. Though they don’t actually solve the problem, they help you get to sleep, eliminating the biggest side effect of RLS. Once your sleep schedule is back on track, you will find that the RLS is not so strong, or it even disappears altogether.

Is Restless Leg Syndrome Real?

There are some people whi are convinced that Restless Leg Syndrome is a fake disorder invented by the pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs.

They like to point to the fact that there is no actual test that can be done to prove or disprove that you have it.

Ask anybody who suffers from Restless Leg Syndrom if it is real, and they will give you the rundown of what they go through every night. From uncontrollable urges to move due to the discomfort felt in the legs to terrible pins and needles. They will tell you that it is very real and not just an invention by greedy drug companies.

Restless Leg Syndrome is yet another neurological disorder in a long list that is not fully understood by doctors. But, that doesn’t mean that people are being conned into believing they have symptoms when they really don’t.

Not only that, but it’s been a condition experienced for centuries. In the 1600’s, a doctor named Sir Thomas Willis wrote about Restless Leg Syndrome. More recently, in 1945, it was studied in more detail and given its current name of RLS. 

Final Thoughts on Restless Leg Syndrome

According to the Sleep Foundation, one in ten people suffer from RLS. When 10% of the population is missing sleep because of RLS, something has to be done. The actual symptoms of RLS are not going to harm the long-term health of the people who suffer from it, but sleep deprivation will.

That is a lot of missed sleep, and the complications that come from missing sleep are numerous. Don’t buy into the notion that you are delusional because you suspect you have RLS.

If you are not able to sleep because of your legs, you really should try some of the treatments you can do at home. If nothing works, you should get to your doctor as soon as possible. As I mentioned earlier, you won’t have any health complications by waiting to go the doctor, but the sooner you get your condition sorted out, the sooner you can get some sleep.

Other sleep issues you might be interested in reading about include sleep paralysis and overcoming sleep anxiety.​

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