What to do when your legs won't let you sleep

It can be quite tricky trying to fall asleep as you get older, but have you ever experienced an overwhelming urge in your legs to start moving? So frustrating! While it might seem like something innocent, restless leg syndrome is a condition that can ruin your sleep and put your health at risk.

RLS — as it is more commonly known — is where your legs (mainly your calves and feet) have a prickly sensation or feel itchy, jumpy or painful. If you suffer the condition you’ll know that one of the ways in which you respond to the feeling is to get up and start moving around, which is where ‘restless legs’ gets its name. Sometimes the simple act of moving makes your legs feel better.

While the cause of restless leg syndrome is not known, diabetics; those with an iron deficiency, kidney disease or hypertension; or experiencing fluctuations with their hormones seem to be more prone to the condition. It is also thought that RLS can run in families.

It’s not the sort of condition that will cause you any physical disability, but the lack of sleep you might experience from it can lead to a general decline in your health and wellbeing. This makes you more susceptible to heart disease, inflammation and obesity.

If you answer yes to any of the four questions below, you could have restless leg syndrome:

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  1. Do you have the urge to move your legs because of unpleasant feelings in them?
  2. Does the urge to move increase if you are resting or sitting down?
  3. Do the unpleasant feelings decrease or go away when you move your legs?
  4. Are the unpleasant feelings and the urge to move worse in the evenings and night?

Your doctor might send you off for a few tests and if diagnosed with RLS could suggest prescription medication to help treat the condition.

It is however worth considering a more natural approach to treating restless leg syndrome.

If your blood test show anemia, you might need to increase your intake of iron. Men need around 10mg of iron a day, while pre-menopausal women need 27mg and post-menopausal women need 9mg of iron.

You could also be lacking in vitamin B12, which is necessary for the function of your nervous system, and folate (B9), which helps keep your iron uptake and homocysteine (that’s the naturally occurring amino acid in your blood plasma) levels normal. Some medical professionals suggest 500mcg of B12 and around 1mg to 2mg of folic acid a day could help with RLS symptoms.

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Other vital minerals are magnesium and potassium. Foods such as bananas, potatoes, spinach, kidney beans and split peas are high in potassium. Magnesium plays an essential role in how cells use energy. You can find magnesium in nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.

It is also recommended that you get between 30 and 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day. The activity should be one that uses your legs – so walking or running is ideal. However, extreme exercise and exercising before bed time is not recommended because it can exacerbate the symptoms.

If you experience restless leg syndrome it’s always a good idea to consult your health care professional to discuss symptoms and treatment.

Have you experienced an inability to sleep because of restless legs? Share your story with us.