Restless Legs

Restless legs are typically caused by a condition called restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease. It is a sleep-related movement disorder, as well as a neurological disorder. This disorder typically manifests as an uncomfortable and overwhelming urge to move your limbs. Many people describe it as a creepy, itching, or crawling sensation that intensifies at night when lying down or during long periods of inactivity. Restless leg syndrome tends to get worse with age, and can interfere with your sleep, often causing insomnia.[1] In many cases, the cause of restless legs is unknown, but there are several theories regarding the risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing it. Restless leg syndrome is typically a lifelong condition, but there are a variety of lifestyle changes and treatments that can alleviate symptoms.

Restless leg causes

The cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, but is generally thought to be caused by a combination of factors. Many theorize that it is the result of an iron deficiency, which affects your brain’s ability to produce dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain control movement in your nervous system. A deficiency of dopamine is thought potentially to cause the uncontrolled movement.

Researchers also suspect that restless leg syndrome may be hereditary, particularly for those who develop the syndrome very early in their lives. Those who have a family history of restless leg syndrome are often more likely to develop it.

In many cases, restless leg syndrome is not a primary condition, and appears along with other conditions, or as a side effect of certain medications or other substances. For instance, the use of certain antidepressants and anti-allergy medications have been known to cause restless leg syndrome.

The effects of restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome can result in sleep disruption and insomnia. This can have significant effects on your day-to-day life. Poor sleep or sleep deprivation can cause anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation headaches. Chronic sleep deprivation, whether partial or total, can change the way your body experiences its negative effects. Sleep deprivation stages can quickly progress from mild to severe, so it is important to treat your restless legs as soon as you start showing signs of insomnia. 

Help for restless legs

Restless leg syndrome is a relatively common condition, affecting as many as 5 to 10 percent of adults in the United States.[2] This condition does not typically have serious health complications. Many mild cases of restless leg syndrome do not require treatment, but for those with severe restless leg syndrome, medical help may be necessary in order to find the best way to ease the symptoms.

Restless leg syndrome treatment often includes lifestyle changes and medications that may provide relief for the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. For mild cases, symptoms are often managed simply by putting a regular sleep routine in place, routinely exercising, and avoiding caffeine.[3] Taking hot baths and massaging your leg muscles can also help, as these methods reduce tension in your muscles. There is also an FDA-approved foot wrap that can provide relief.

Additionally, there are several medications that can manage restless legs and help you enjoy an undisrupted sleep. These include muscle relaxants, opioids, and sleeping pills. However, prescription medications may be habit-forming, so it’s best to avoid these as a long-term solution.

FAQs

Does dehydration cause restless legs?

No, dehydration does not cause restless legs. However, dehydration may intensify and worsen your symptoms if you already suffer from restless leg syndrome.

What causes restless leg syndrome?

The cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown. There are several environmental and genetic factors that influence whether you develop restless leg syndrome. Primary restless leg syndrome, or restless leg syndrome that is not associated with an accompanying condition, is thought to be related to iron deficiency, which is critical for the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. [4]

How do you sleep with restless legs?

Depending on the severity and cause of your restless legs, there are many medications and lifestyle changes that can help you find the best way to fall asleep. Solutions may include medication, iron supplements, adjusting your sleep hygiene, and stretching exercises. Some have also found relief by using CBD sleep products, such as CBD sleep gummies and CBD sleep sprays. While there are not enough conclusive trials done specifically on restless leg syndrome and CBD sleep products, the natural painkilling properties of cannabis are likely to prevent the painful irritation of restless leg syndrome, while the calming effects of CBD have recently been considered as another option for treating insomnia.[5][6]

What are you lacking if you have restless legs?

For some people, restless legs can be the result of a lack of iron, and iron supplements may treat the symptoms.

Master Sources List

[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20377168

[2] https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/restless-legs-syndrome/#frequency

[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20377174

[4] https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/restless-legs-syndrome/#resources

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31820197/

[6] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476

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