Restless Leg Syndrome and Sleep Disorders

Written by Manny Erlich on June 27, 2013. Posted in Sleep Disorder News & Research, Snoring 101

How Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome Are Related to Sleeping Patterns

One of our goals here at Snoreworld has been to educate you about the dangers and health risks associated with snoring. Once you really begin to understand more about snoring, it’s overwhelming to think about all of the potential health implications – from strokes and cardiovascular issues, to diabetes, erectile dysfunction, cancer, and alzheimers. And that’s just for starters. Snoring can also be a sign of sleep apnea also, a serious health condition. Our hope is that the more you know about snoring, the better off you’ll be.

With this in mind, we want to bring to your attention another often overlooked symptom that can have far reaching effects on your health. Have you ever had throbbing, aching, unpleasant tingling sensations in your leg? Sometimes it’s a creepy crawling feeling or sometimes it might be an itch. Or a combination of any of these symptoms. Ultimately though it results in an incredible urge to move your leg or stand up and move around. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) can lead to many sleep disorders.

 What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

An astounding number of people are affected by this condition. It’s estimated that 10% of the US population has RLS. Think about that for a moment. That means that approximately 30 million people or more could have RLS.

RLS is an uncomfortable sensation in the legs that results in an incredible urge to move your legs. It can actually be hard to describe (and harder to diagnose) but most would say that it is an itchy, tingling or creepy crawly sensation in the leg. The sensations can even be painful. All are associated with discomfort and an incredible urge to move your leg. Symptoms are typically worse at night or become more prominent when resting. Sleep disorders are common with RLS because it makes going to sleep a lot harder, especially when you have the urge to move your leg or get up and move around. Relief does come from moving around, but usually it’s short-lived and comes back after returning to a resting position.

Restless Leg Syndrome Causes:

Restless Leg Syndrome may be related to sleep apnea. Both may be indicators of each other. RLS can be detected through a sleep study evaluation – the same test that helps determine whether someone has sleep apnea. Snoring may also be another indicator of RLS just as it is for obstructive sleep apnea. These disorders are all connected in that they cause sleep deprivation, drowsiness and lead to other health issues.

While no one really knows what causes Restless Leg Syndrome, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Leg Syndrome, there are several factors which appear to be linked to this condition:

1. Iron Concentrations in the Brain

Iron deficiency seems to be one of the culprits related to RLS. MRI’s can be used to detect or measure levels of brain iron. Studies have shown that when iron insufficiencies are treated, symptoms of RLS show significant improvement or are eliminated all together.

2. Dopamine Concentrations in the Brain

Evidence suggests that RLS is related to a dysfunction in the brain’s basal ganglia circuits that use the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is needed to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. Disruption of these pathways frequently results in involuntary movements. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, another disorder of the basal ganglia’s dopamine pathways, often have RLS as well.

3. Genetics

Restless Leg Syndrome and genetics may also be related. RLS is related to environmental factors and genes. Those who are born with low iron or develop iron deficiencies in later years might not initially see any effects of RLS. But the low iron condition can be a cause of getting RLS. There are several genes where a variation in gene structure is associated with an increased risk of developing RLS. Having one of these genes will not be the direct cause of getting RLS, it only increases your risk of getting it. Interactions between these genes and iron regulation may at some point in your life trigger RLS symptoms.

Although no direct evidence exists, RLS is thought to be linked to a variety of other conditions and factors:

Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy (treating the underlying condition often provides relief from RLS).

Certain medications that might make symptoms worse such as anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and even some cold and allergy medications.

Pregnancy (symptoms usually subside 4 weeks after birth).

While there has been a great deal of research over the last 20 years, much more is needed to better understand thecauses of Restless Leg Syndrome.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

People with RLS often cite difficulty in falling asleep. Or once they do fall asleep, it’s hard for them to stay asleep.

Periodic limb movements are a common occurrence during sleep. The movements can last 20-30 seconds throughout the night causing a seriously disruptive sleep pattern.

Snoring and or sleep apnea only exacerbates the problem resulting in exhaustion, drowsiness and other consequences that affect your overall quality of life such as your relationships, your work performance and ability to concentrate.

Treating RLS

In some cases, relieving symptoms of RLS can be as simple as moving the affected area (foot or leg). This may provide temporary relief, but is probably not a long-term solution. Trying to correct causes of Restless Leg Syndrome (e.g. diabetes) will help control RLS symptoms.

Certain medications may also help. Drugs that increase dopamine have been shown to reduce symptoms of RLS. Ropinirole and Levidopa are just two examples.

Certain lifestyle changes may also help to relieve symptoms – reduce or eliminate caffeine, smoking and alcohol…address your iron deficiencies (take iron supplements), maintain a regular sleep pattern, massage your legs. If you snore, stop snoring. It can disrupt your sleep and exacerbate RLS. Eat healthy. Exercise. If you’ve never tried yoga, there’s never been a better time to start. Leading a healthy lifestyle and healthy diet reduces your health risk factors.


If you suspect you may have Restless Leg Syndrome or a sleep disorder, don’t postpone seeing your doctor.

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Manny Erlich

International Foundation of Employee Benefits - Certified Employee Benefits Specialist