Cosmo Kramer famously had trouble sleeping due to his “jimmy legs” on “Seinfeld,” but the jimmy legs are more than just sitcom material. Also known as restless legs syndrome, this irresistible urge to move your legs affects about 10 percent of the population and up to 35 percent of people over age 65.
Not only is restless legs syndrome uncomfortable, but it can also cause serious sleep problems. Restless legs can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.
Here are four things you should know about restless legs syndrome:
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome is a disorder the causes uncomfortable sensations in the limbs, usually in the legs. It is often described as a tingling, aching, or creepy-crawly feeling that leads to an uncontrollable urge to move the limbs. It is usually worse while sitting or lying still and temporarily gets better with movement. The symptoms can be worst in the evening or at night, and in turn, restless legs syndrome often leads to trouble sleeping.
Who gets restless legs?
About 10 percent of people in the United States suffer from restless legs syndrome. It is more common in women and is often more severe in older people. It is unclear what causes RLS, but family history, chronic diseases and medication can sometimes play a role. Restless legs syndrome can also temporarily afflict pregnant women, but it should go away after pregnancy.
Can I prevent restless legs?
Since experts don’t know the cause of restless legs, there is no known way to prevent it. There is also no cure for the malady. There are, however, some possible triggers that you can avoid. Some prescription medications — like antidepressants, antihistamines and anti-nausea drugs — can make symptoms worse. If you think your medications are making your RLS worse, talk to your doctor about possible changes.
Get up and move around when you are still for long periods of time, such as during a movie or on car rides. Keep a regular sleep schedule and cut back on alcohol and caffeine. Keep a diary of your symptoms and what seems to trigger them, and make changes as needed.
What can I do to relieve symptoms?
Some people with restless legs syndrome may have iron deficiency. Your doctor may prescribe a supplement or dietary changes to help your restless legs. Other at-home remedies include exercise, massage and stretching.
Some people with RLS may benefit from some prescription drugs. These drugs — such as benzodiazepines, opioids and others — can have serious side effects or even worsen symptoms, so it may take some time to find the right medication for each person. Compression sleeves, foot wraps or a vibrating pad could also help relieve symptoms and help you sleep.
“Prescription drugs can often help restless legs syndrome, but non-medicinal remedies should be tried first,” says Spencer Eaton, executive director at Pinnacle Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “Some prescriptions can cause dizziness and increase the risk of a fall for an elderly person.”
Restless legs syndrome can be a serious problem for people when it affects their ability to sleep well. If you experience symptoms of restless legs, talk to your doctor and try some of these remedies.