Are restless legs affecting my sleep?

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Many people find their sleep is disturbed by restless legs – unusual and sometimes unpleasant sensations which cause a strong urge to move their legs to relieve the feeling. Restless legs syndrome (RLS) can occur at any time but is often worse at night. A related condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) only occurs at night and causes your arms or legs to jerk or twitch.

RLS and PLMD can affect anyone but are quite often linked with long-term conditions. They can also occur as a side-effect of some medications or as a result of not having enough iron or vitamins in your body. You should see your doctor if restless legs are adding to your sleep problems. Treatment may involve:

  • changing your medications
  • taking iron or vitamin supplements
  • avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol
  • stretching and massaging your leg muscles.

If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may suggest treatment with a group of drugs called dopamine agonists, for example ropinirole and pramipexole. These increase the levels of a chemical called dopamine in your brain, which is needed to produce smooth muscle activity and movement and so help to prevent the involuntary movements that occur in RLS and PLMD.

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