Tips to lessen Restless Leg Syndrome

August 2, 2011 2:57:34 PM PDT
Summer's hot weather can make a number of medical problems worse, including restless leg syndrome worse.

Restless leg is a condition that can lead to poor sleep and daytime drowsiness.

Twitching legs, a shock shooting down the legs. That's how one sufferer described Restless Leg Syndrome. Moving makes it better, but if those movements happen in the middle of the night, the result can be poor sleep. Research recently showed that it runs in families, as it does for Chris Cook.

Holding hands, Chris and Karen cook seem like a happy couple, and they are, but Chris kicks his wife at night.

"She's been awakened in the middle of the night because I've been asleep and my legs have been kicking," Chris said.

Chris has Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS and he's not even aware it's happening, except as he gets into bed and relaxes.

"It's like an electric shock and your body goes like that, and there's nothing you can do to stop it," Chris said.

Symptoms can be worse in the heat and at the end of the day. RLS is twice as common in women as in men, and can come along with diabetes, thyroid problems, and varicose veins. Pregnant women can get it, especially if they're deficient in iron. Chris' grandmother and cousins have RLS, and new studies show that, indeed, it's genetic.

"We don't know why it happens but it's a circadian rhythm thing, it follows a 24 hour clock and may be related to melatonin," said Dr. Ana Krieger from NR Pres Weill Cornell.

RLS can be a cause of insomnia. Moreover, multiple awakenings means a poor night's sleep.

Sufferers can sleep soundly with treatment.

Increasing the brain chemical dopamine can help RLS. The medications for RLS act like an artificial dopamine to reduce leg movement.

There are a couple of prescription drugs that work like dopamine. And there are some tips to reduce the problem and insomnia in general.

Avoid or limit alcohol, caffeine and nicotine stimulants. Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. Keep a regular sleep schedule and wake up at the same time each day.

Chris was doing well on one medication until the past few weeks. A probable cause could be the hot weather. But increasing the dose did the trick.

"Last night was the first night and I slept like a baby," Chris said.

Chris says that getting up and walking around can reduce the symptoms, but this can only add to the problem of getting sleep. About 75 to 80 percent of sufferers respond to the medications. Too much medication may make symptoms worse and can set them off earlier in the day.