Restless Legs Syndrome – “It feels like bugs are crawling all over my legs!”

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

August 2, 2009

fatigue, insomnia, other disorders, senior's sleep, sleep and aging

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a sleep problem that interferes with falling asleep. While trying to fall asleep, people suffering from RLS will experience sensations in their legs that can only be relieved by movement. The sensations have been described as aches, discomfort, creeping and/or crawling feelings, itchiness, and tingling. People sometimes describe it like bugs crawling in their muscles. When they move, the bugs stop crawling, but when they are still, the bugs start again.

We saw a few interesting cases in the sleep lab. One poor woman had to take a hot bath every hour just to relieve the discomfort in her legs and get a bit of sleep. Another lady used to scratch her legs with a pointed stick and we have even see one man who had to tap his legs with a baseball bat over and over again just to relieve the annoyance. Imagine trying to sleep while hitting yourself with a baseball bat!

The sensations are usually felt between the ankle and the knee. Occasionally they can be felt in the thighs or feet and they are rarely experienced in the arms. RLS appears to increase with age. Peak onset is usually during middle age. Over night sleep studies show limb movements at sleep onset. Most, if not all, people with RLS show periodic limb movements (PLMs) during sleep.

Medications are available for PLMs and RLS. Increasing exercise has also been found to relieve the sensations for some people but in others it can make the RLS worse.

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation is a great source of information.  Look up the effects of iron supplements as a treatment at:

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