Restless legs syndrome is a condition that ranges from a creepy-crawly sensation that runs up and down your legs to quivers, jerks, pins and needles, numbness, pain, or a burning sensation. It affects millions of individuals every day, and their chief complaint is difficulty falling asleep — and staying asleep. That’s because that is when these sensations typically occur. And unfortunately, many people who have RLS also have trouble controlling sudden limb movements, which can occur every 20 to 30 seconds all night long — a major sleep disrupter.
Twenty percent of pregnant women also suffer from RLS. If you’re expecting, “delivery is the real remedy,” says Grace Pien, M.D., a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology.
RLS can be experienced in varying degrees, from mild to severe. Here’s what to look for:
- When you sit or lie down, do you have a strong desire to move your legs?
- Does your desire to move your legs feel impossible to resist?
- Have you ever used the words unpleasant, creepy crawly, creeping, itching, pulling, or tugging to describe your symptoms to others?
- Does your desire to move often occur when you are resting or sitting still?
- Does moving your legs make you feel better?
- Do you complain of these symptoms more at night?
- Do you keep your bed partner awake with the jerking movements of your legs?
- Do you ever have involuntary leg movements while you are awake?
- Are you tired or unable to concentrate during the day?Walk before bed. Don’t do anything too aerobic, because that will keep you up. Just take a nice, quiet stroll around the block before you turn in.Stretch. Doing leg stretches for five minutes or so right before you hop into bed will help settle your legs.
Warm your legs. Apply heat over your lower legs when you lie down. A microwavable heat pack stuffed with fragrant herbs is perfect. When it cools, you don’t even have to get up. You can toss it under the bed, turn out the light, and head into dreamland.
Avoid antihistamines. Over-the-counter sleep aids that contain antihistamines will make restless legs worse. Avoid them under any circumstances.
Check iron and folate levels. Even when you take vitamins, some women develop an anemia that will cause leg cramps and restless legs. Your doctor can run a simple blood test that will reveal inadequate levels. If levels are low, she may prescribe an iron or B-complex supplement.
Beef up your diet. During pregnancy, eat a diet rich in red meat, eggs, and whole grains to maintain adequate iron and folate levels.
Stay out of smoky rooms. Studies show that pregnant women who are exposed to tobacco smoke have double the risk of restless legs.