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Are your restless legs keeping you up at night? Tips to manage RLS

Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS, is often hard to recognize and diagnose. However, it is not something to be overlooked, especially if it is keeping you up at night. The National Library of Medicine defines RLS as an urge or need to move the legs to stop unpleasant sensations, which vary from itching to tingling to burning to just general discomfort in the limbs.

If this sounds familiar to you or your partner, follow these tips to help identify it and on how to reduce symptoms if it's keeping you up at night.

Could you have RLS?

The National Sleep Foundation uses the acronym U.R.G.E. as diagnostic criteria. If you have the following symptoms, you may be experiencing RLS.

  • U — Urge to move limbs, usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings in the limbs
  • R — Rest worsens or inactivity precipitates symptoms
  • G — Getting up or moving improves the urge to move
  • E — Evening worsening or nighttime appearance of symptoms

These symptoms are often seen in middle-aged and older adults and occur frequently at night, at times lasting longer than one hour making it harder to fall asleep. The severity of RLS can vary depending on time of day, activity and fatigue levels. People can easily mistake other symptoms for RLS.

If you experience symptoms like leg cramps, neuropathy (numbness, burning, and tingling), arthritis, or vascular discomfort (relief with movement and rubbing) discomfort, you may not necessarily have RLS. Consult with your doctor to get to the bottom of what is causing your symptoms, and to determine if it is in fact RLS or another cause.

Causes of RLS

While some of these causes can be temporary and the effects reversible, others are hereditary or caused by underlying diseases and disorders.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, RLS may be caused by:

Lack of iron.

There are many diseases and conditions that may cause low iron levels in the brain, or affect how it is used, including diabetes, kidney failure, pregnancy and Parkinson's disease. Or, you could simply just need more iron in your diet. Try iron-rich foods like red meat, cereals, beans and egg yolks.

Genetics.

If you have family members with RLS, you may be at a higher risk for lack of iron in your brain.

Nerve damage.

Diseases such as diabetes can cause nerve damage in the limbs, which could worsen RLS.

Medicines.

Certain drugs and other substances could trigger RLS, including antihistamines, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, alcohol and tobacco.

Pregnancy.

Cases of RLS peak in the third trimester, between the seventh and eighth months. After birth, iron levels should return to normal and RLS symptoms should improve within three months.

Is RLS keeping you up at night? Tips for overcoming its symptoms

If you do have RLS whether temporary or more permanent, there are ways to treat it. The web site rlseducation.com suggests the following things you can do to manage symptoms: Be consistent with your bedtime routine. Get your mind and body used to going to bed around the same time.

  • Avoid too much caffeine and tobacco products as they can worsen symptoms.
  • Exercise! Use the muscle activity and urges in a productive way.
  • Practice relaxation. This could be a hot shower or bath at the end of the day, a form of yoga and meditation, or the use of SleepPhones to help lull you to sleep.
  • Keep mentally active in the evening. This will help you get your mind off of focusing on certain pains and the need to move around.
  • Ask your doctor about medication that could help manage your symptoms, or to eliminate them altogether if your RLS is being caused by a form of medication you’re taking.

Don't let your restless limbs keep you up at night. Follow these tips to calm down your body — and your body parts — to get a better night's sleep.

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