Restless Legs Syndrome


by John Wiedman

Restless legs syndrome, known in the medical community as RLS, is a condition where there is an irresistible urge to move one's legs when sitting or lying down. My legs become extremely restless. I feel like I have demons in my legs, and I need an exorcist to cast them from my body. It is impossible to sit still without being uncomfortable. This usually occurs when I get very tired in the evening prior to going to sleep, although it can occur during the day if there are periods of inactivity such as driving a long distance or watching a movie.

Most of the time I don't do anything to alleviate the discomfort other than stretch or walk around. I have found that sometimes the best relief is to focus my attention elsewhere until the unpleasant sensation leaves, sort of a Lamaze-type solution. My wife swears that taking a long, very hot bath eliminates her problem. I have finally listened to my wife for a change and found that her solution of taking a hot bath works better for me than anything else I have ever tried. Without fail, I get some degree of, if not total, relief. The following is a list of other recommendations that I have heard or read that are effective at certain times for certain people. It would be worth a try to see if any of these alternatives can provide you with enough relief to avoid medications and their side effects.

I have found a book devoted to restless legs syndrome called Sleep Thief written by Virginia N. Wilson. Ms. Wilson is an eighty-three year old who has suffered with restless legs all of her life. In addition to relating her own experiences, Ms. Wilson, who is not a medical professional, is joined by fifteen RLS specialists in the book. The book made me realize that my symptoms are not nearly as severe as many of the victims mentioned in the book. The book points out that RLS is now being diagnosed in young children who previously were thought to have "growing pains". The book further points out studies that show RLS to be hereditary. From my perspective of trying to avoid medication if at all possible, I felt as though there was too much attention to the pharmaceutical treatments and not enough for alternative treatments. It is pointed out that while certain alternative treatments (such as those above) have shown to be effective for some, others derive no benefit from the treatments. As a result, the alternative treatments can't be recommended by the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. On the other hand, much is made of the medications used to treat the disorder with the acknowledgment that the disease and related symptoms usually never go away completely. The problems of tolerance, rebound symptoms, and associated side effects of the medications are discussed, however.

Ms. Wilson was also a cofounder of the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, a nonprofit agency that supports research, provides information about RLS, helps develop support groups, and publishes a newsletter, Night Walkers. The Foundation has a site on the Internet with an address of that provides a wealth of information regarding the disorder. The Foundation also makes available a free information bulletin about RLS and the Foundation that can be obtained by sending a stamped (55 cents postage as of June, 1998), self-addressed envelope (business size #10) to :
Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
PO Box 7050
Department JW
Rochester, MN 55903-7050

With my "night eating disorder", I grow hungrier as I become sleepier. If I ultimately give in and eat, my legs will often become very restless shortly thereafter. While this condition does not occur every night, it is usually much worse when I eat late in the evening on a night when I am very fatigued.

On a final note, most people that have restless leg syndrome also have periodic limb movements known as PLMS. A sign of PLMS is usually seeing bed sheets that are in total disarray upon awakening in the morning. Also, your spouse may complain about you kicking or thrashing about during the night. As far as I know, I no longer demonstrate any symptoms of PLMS. Is my PLMS gone without medication?

From Desperately Seeking Snoozin', by John Wiedman. Copyright 1999 John Wiedman. Excerpted by arrangement with Towering Pines Press. $14.95. Available in local bookstores, or by calling toll free 877-753-3726. Also available online from the publisher.