What is restless leg syndrome? Symptoms, causes and treatment

September 29, 2020 4 mins read
What is restless leg syndrome? Symptoms, causes and treatment

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a sleeping disorder where you experience a powerful and often uncomfortable urge to move your legs and other body parts during sleep. Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, it affects up to 10% of the U.S. population with middle-aged women twice as likely to be diagnosed with it.

It’s a lifelong disorder with no cure. However, there are ways to treat the symptoms and bring relief. Read on for all the information you need to identify, manage, and live with restless leg syndrome.

Symptoms of RSL

Some people describe restless leg syndrome as a mild, tickly, or fizzy feeling in the legs. Others say it’s more of a severe crawling, throbbing and aching sensation. However, all agree that the urge to move or stretch your legs during sleep can disrupt your rest and lead to sleep deprivation.

Before your lack of sleep takes its toll on your immune system, mood, and mental acuity, look out for these symptoms so that you can manage RSL and get the sleep you need.

Leg discomfort combined with the strong urge to move

You can be gripped by a powerful and sometimes painful sensation similar to pins and needles, triggering an urge to move or walk.

Rest triggers the symptoms

As soon as you lie down or get into a comfortable position, the tingly sensation becomes worse.

Symptoms get worse at night

The symptoms are usually amplified at night. You can spend the whole day not feeling the sensation, but come evening, the urge to move your legs makes it difficult to get a full night’s rest.

Symptoms improve when you walk or move your legs

Just by taking a walk around the room, moving, or massaging your legs, you can ease the sensation.

Leg twitching or kicking while sleeping

Your legs can twitch or kick on their own as a reflex action to the urge.

What triggers restless leg syndrome at night?

Doctors don’t know what triggers the onset of the disorder, but you’ll find that your symptoms of restless leg syndrome increase when you get ready to sleep and could worsen through the night. While it is called restless leg syndrome, it can also affect your arms, and you may feel sensations on both sides of your body, sometimes starting on one side and moving to the other.

Causes of RSL

Researchers haven’t been able to find conclusive evidence on what causes restless leg syndrome. What they do know is that some factors are linked to the disease.

Chronic diseases

If you suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, anemia, renal disease, and Parkinson’s disease, the chances that you’ll experience restless leg syndrome are relatively high.


If you take cold and flu medicines, use antihistamines for allergies, or are taking anti-depressants, it’s essential to be mindful as these have been found, in some cases, to cause restless leg syndrome.


Smoking, drinking coffee, or eating foods with caffeine (sorry, chocolate), can worsen the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Stress and a lack of exercise have also been found to contribute to the discomfort.


Expectant moms have reported experiencing the disorder, particularly in the third trimester. The symptoms typically disappear after the baby is born, however, and life should return to normal.

How to relieve the symptoms

While there’s no cure for restless leg syndrome, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms.

Changing your lifestyle habits can help you feel more comfortable. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene, exercising, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and eating healthy, sleep-inducing foods are key to managing your symptoms.

You can also follow these tips to ease the discomfort:

  • Take a hot bath or shower to help ease the urges and the pain.
  • Apply ice or a heating pack to your legs to relieve the sensation.
  • Treat yourself to regular massages to boost blood circulation.

Your doctor can also prescribe medication, such as narcotic pain relievers, anticonvulsants or antiseizure drugs, and benzodiazepine, a sedative which helps you to sleep. But not all medicines will work for all people, so it’s best to consult your doctor about a treatment tailored to your needs.

The impact on daily life

Restless leg syndrome doesn’t have to rule your life. Your doctor can help with treatment, and by making some lifestyle changes, such as improving your sleep quality, you can effectively manage the disorder.