If you’re having difficulty sleeping because of an unpleasant crawling sensation in your legs, it could be that you’re suffering from restless legs syndrome or Willis-Ekbom disease as it’s medically known. Sufferers can feel a variety of sensations in their legs, from a tingling, creeping feeling that makes lying still feel extremely uncomfortable, all the way up to involuntary movements such as twitching and kicking.
In severe cases, the sensations can be present at all times, but for most sufferers it’s most noticeable at night, especially when trying to sleep, often leading to insomnia. What causes restless leg syndrome, and what can be done?
Although there is often no clear underlying cause for restless legs syndrome, it’s thought that the symptoms arise from how the body deals with a chemical called dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter which is heavily involved in both movement and sensation, and if the body isn’t handling this powerful chemical properly, producing too little or too much, the symptoms can result.
One reason for dopamine levels going awry is a simple iron deficiency. Iron is an essential nutrient for the human body and helps to regulate dopamine levels and smooth their effects. An iron deficiency can also lead to fatigue and lethargy, although these symptoms can easily be masked by tiredness from nights disturbed by restless leg syndrome. Up to 10% of people have low iron levels, but a deficiency is relatively easily solved through dietary improvements or taking supplements.
More Serious Health Problems
Restless legs syndrome is not in itself harmful, although the distress and sleep disturbance it causes can lead to depression if left unchecked. However, sometimes it is a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Possibilities include kidney disorders, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or thyroid problems, so if any other symptoms are experienced in combination with restless legs it’s important to see a doctor to rule these conditions out.
Finally, restless legs syndrome is often associated with pregnancy, especially the later stages after around 27 weeks. In these cases, the condition will usually disappear without treatment, within a few weeks of giving birth.
Treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome
If underlying health issues have been ruled out, then some simple lifestyle changes can often relieve the symptoms, even if the syndrome won’t be completely cured. It’s best to avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol as much as possible, and certainly later in the day. Getting plenty of exercise can help, especially focusing on the legs, although this should be avoided in the hours before sleep. Also, trying to stick to good sleeping habits can help, such as having a set routine with regular retiring and waking times, not napping during the day, and avoiding electronic devices for an hour before going to bed.
During a period of especially heavy symptoms, the following may help provide relief:
- Many are finding amazing relief with CBD from the hemp plant as the hemp plant offers CBD (Cannabidiol) that is THC free and legal in all 50 states.
- Taking a hot bath before going to bed.
- Using a hot water bottle to mask the discomfort.
- Doing stretching exercises.
- Yoga or other relaxation techniques.
- Massaging or kneading your leg muscles.
- Distractions such as reading, doing a crossword, or even taking a light snack.
If the symptoms persist and are causing severe disruption such as insomnia or depression, medical help in the form of drugs is a possibility. Medications can range from dopamine agonists which increase the neurotransmitter levels, to opiate-based painkillers which dull the unpleasant sensations. Both will require an examination and prescription from a doctor so we recommend trying all natural remedies first, like CBD from the hemp plant that is legally available in all 50 states.
Restless legs syndrome is an unpleasant condition which can range in severity from inconvenient to severely distressing, and even though its causes are not fully understood, in most cases an appropriate and effective treatment can be found by working together with a physician.