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rls and sleeping disorders

The Link Between RLS & Sleep Disorders Explained

Sleep is essential for our physical and mental well-being, yet millions of people across the globe struggle with various sleep disorders. One of the more perplexing conditions is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), which can significantly impact the quality of one’s sleep.

Today we will unravel the intricacies of RLS, exploring its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and the profound effects it has on sleep. Moreover, we’ll also share effective treatment options, management strategies, and offer guidance on when it’s time to seek help from a medical professional.

At Manhattan Medical Arts, we are committed to improving the quality of your sleep and overall health, so let’s begin this journey together, and understand the link between RLS and sleep disorders.

Understanding Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS, is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one’s legs. This urge typically occurs when at rest or during nighttime hours, making it a challenging condition for those trying to sleep. Although the exact cause of RLS remains elusive, it is widely believed to be associated with a combination of genetic and environmental factors, as well as certain underlying medical conditions.

RLS Symptoms

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a perplexing and often distressing condition that can wreak havoc on one’s ability to find restful sleep. Recognizing the symptoms of RLS is the first step towards understanding the challenges it presents.

  • Urge to Move: RLS is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs, particularly when at rest, like when sitting or lying down.
  • Uncomfortable Sensations: Individuals with RLS often experience sensations like tingling, itching, or a “creepy-crawly” feeling in their legs.
  • Evening and Nighttime Aggravation: RLS symptoms intensify during the evening and nighttime, disrupting your ability to relax and fall asleep.
  • Temporary Relief with Movement: Movement, such as walking or stretching, briefly eases RLS discomfort, but it returns when you rest.
  • Sleep Disturbances: RLS disrupts sleep, leading to fragmented and insufficient rest, resulting in daytime fatigue and impaired concentration.
  • Impaired Daily Function: Chronic sleep disruption from RLS can cause mood swings, irritability, and reduced productivity, affecting your overall quality of life.

RLS Causes

While Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) remains enigmatic in its origins, research has shed light on various factors that may trigger or exacerbate this condition. Understanding the potential causes of RLS is essential for effective management and treatment.

  • Genetic Predisposition: One of the strongest links to RLS is genetic predisposition. If you have a family history of RLS, your risk of developing the condition is significantly higher. It appears that certain genetic factors play a pivotal role in its occurrence.
  • Iron Deficiency: Iron deficiency, especially in the brain, has been associated with RLS. Iron is essential for the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating movement. A lack of iron can disrupt dopamine function and contribute to RLS symptoms.
  • Pregnancy: RLS symptoms may surface or intensify during pregnancy. Hormonal changes, increased blood volume, and iron utilization by the growing fetus can all contribute to RLS in expectant mothers.
  • Chronic Diseases: Certain chronic diseases, such as kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy, are known to increase the risk of RLS. These conditions may influence the nervous system or disrupt iron metabolism, triggering RLS symptoms.
  • Medications and Substances: Some medications, like antipsychotics and certain anti-nausea drugs, can worsen or trigger RLS symptoms. Additionally, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption may exacerbate the condition.
  • Nervous System Abnormalities: RLS may be associated with abnormalities in the nervous system. These irregularities can influence the brain’s control over leg movement and the perception of discomfort, leading to RLS symptoms.

RLS Diagnostic Process

Diagnosing RLS involves a comprehensive evaluation of symptoms and medical history. No specific laboratory test can confirm RLS, so healthcare providers rely on patient-reported symptoms and sometimes employ sleep studies to assess the impact on sleep quality. The diagnosis process is a crucial step toward managing RLS effectively.

The Impact of RLS on Sleep

The relationship between RLS and sleep is complex and profound. As the RLS symptoms intensify during rest, affected individuals often struggle to fall asleep and maintain a consistent sleep pattern. The resulting sleep deprivation can lead to daytime fatigue, impaired concentration, and a decreased quality of life.

RLS and Insomnia

RLS is a common contributor to insomnia, a condition characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. The discomfort and restlessness associated with RLS can trigger insomnia, making it essential to address both conditions simultaneously to restore healthy sleep patterns.

RLS Treatment Options

Here are the array of choices for managing RLS, ensuring you can regain control of your sleep and overall well-being.

  • Lifestyle Modifications:

Making certain lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on managing RLS. Regular exercise, particularly activities like walking and stretching, can help alleviate symptoms. Additionally, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, especially in the evening, can contribute to symptom reduction.

  • Dietary Adjustments:

Dietary choices can play a role in RLS management. Ensuring an adequate intake of iron and magnesium through a balanced diet can be beneficial. Consult with a healthcare provider to determine if dietary changes are appropriate for your specific case.

  • Stress Reduction:

Stress and anxiety can exacerbate RLS symptoms. Incorporating relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and improve your ability to manage RLS.

  • Medications:

In more severe cases of RLS, medications may be prescribed. These can include dopamine agonists, anticonvulsants, and opioids. The choice of medication depends on the severity of symptoms and individual response.

  • Iron Supplements:

If iron deficiency is a contributing factor, iron supplements may be recommended to boost iron levels in the body. This can help restore proper dopamine function and alleviate RLS symptoms.

  • Alternative Therapies:

Some individuals find relief through alternative therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic care. While the effectiveness of these treatments may vary, they can be considered as complementary approaches to traditional treatments.

  • Supportive Measures:

Supportive measures such as compression stockings or heated pads can offer temporary relief from RLS discomfort. These can be used in combination with other treatments to improve sleep quality.

  • Comprehensive RLS Treatment Plans:

Treatment plans are often individualized to address the unique needs and severity of RLS in each patient. Healthcare providers may combine multiple approaches to achieve the best results.

How To Sleep With Restless Legs Syndrome?

Coping with RLS during sleep can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, incorporating relaxation techniques, and making environmental adjustments can improve the quality of your sleep even in the presence of RLS symptoms.

Tips for RLS Management

Here are some essential tips for managing Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS):

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help regulate your body’s internal clock.
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques: Relaxation methods such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help reduce stress and alleviate RLS symptoms.
  • Avoid triggers: Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, particularly in the evening, as they can exacerbate RLS symptoms.
  • Stay physically active: Engage in regular, moderate exercise, such as walking or stretching, to promote overall well-being and potentially alleviate RLS discomfort.
  • Ensure a balanced diet: Consume foods rich in iron and magnesium to support your overall health and potentially reduce RLS symptoms.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can worsen RLS symptoms, so make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day.
  • Warm baths or massages: Soaking in a warm bath or receiving a leg massage before bedtime may provide temporary relief from RLS discomfort.
  • Maintain a comfortable sleep environment: Ensure your sleep environment is conducive to rest by controlling the room temperature and using a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Keep a sleep diary: Tracking your sleep patterns and RLS symptoms can help identify triggers and monitor the effectiveness of management strategies.
  • Manage stress: Employ stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or mindfulness to help alleviate anxiety and improve sleep quality.
  • Comply with your treatment plan: If prescribed medications or other treatments, adhere to your healthcare provider’s recommendations to effectively manage RLS.
  • Supportive measures: Consider using compression stockings or heated pads to provide temporary relief from RLS symptoms.
  • Consult with a healthcare professional: Seek guidance from a healthcare provider experienced in treating RLS to develop an individualized management plan.

When To See a Doctor?

If you suspect you have RLS or have been experiencing the RLS symptoms mentioned above, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for improving your quality of life and sleep. The team at Manhattan Medical Arts specializes in sleep disorders and is here to help you find the right solutions.


Restless Legs Syndrome can significantly impact your sleep quality and overall well-being. Understanding the symptoms, RLS causes, diagnosis, and the RLS treatment optionsis a crucial step toward better sleep and a healthier life.

At Manhattan Medical Arts, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive care for sleep disorders, including RLS. Don’t let RLS disrupt your life any longer; take the first step toward a good night’s sleep and improved health by reaching out to our experienced team.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 11/02/2023

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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