Do your legs kick around while you sleep? Are your sheets and blankets scattered about when you wake up? Does your spouse complain that you kick him or her during the night? If so, you probably have restless legs syndrome (RLS, more accurately called PLMD, or Periodic Leg Movement Disorder of Sleep), a condition that contributes to both fatigue and pain. You may think you're sleeping comfortably all night, but if you have RLS your legs are running a marathon and you're waking up more exhausted than you realize!
Restless legs syndrome is actually fairly common, but a startling 1 in 3 people with CFS and fibromyalgia have it!
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
One of the most common and easily treated causes of RLS is iron deficiency. If you think you have RLS, you should get a ferritin level test from your physician, as this is the best way to find out. Studies show that bringing your ferritin level above 60 will help eliminate RLS. But be sure it's a ferritin level test and not one of the other iron tests such as total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) tests and transferrin tests. These tests typically consider anything above 12 to be "normal." But that does not mean that you don't have iron deficiency. Explicitly ask your doctor for a blood ferritin test. If the results are under 60, you need iron supplements.
A number of other factors contribute to causing RLS. These include:
- Inadequate levels of dopamine, which is a brain neurotransmitter that requires iron for healthy production. Low dopamine is very common in fibromyalgia, and in the general population. Insufficient levels contribute to increased pain, which is another serious concern in fibromyalgia.
- Certain medications, such as antidepressants and allergy medications.
- Inadequate levels of thyroid. Getting your thyroid numbers to healthy levels can often be very helpful.
- Drop in blood sugar while sleeping. This is a very common problem in fibromyalgia, and can often be helped by simply eating 1-2 ounces of protein, such as a hardboiled egg, before going to bed.
If you suspect you have RLS, you could pay about $2,000 to have a professional medical study performed to look for leg muscle contractions while you sleep. Save the money. Instead, simply record a video of yourself for an hour or so while you sleep. Set your smartphone at the foot of your bed so it records your legs. Hit record and go to sleep. Leave your blanket off and use just your sheet so that your leg movements are more noticeable. Review the video in the morning. It should be obvious if your leg movements were minor sleep repositioning or the more dramatic ongoing kicking associated with RLS behavior.
There are both natural and prescription approaches to getting your legs to calm down at night.
Natural Options ro Calm Your Legs
- Avoid caffeine in the evening.
- Eat a 1-2 ounce protein snack at bedtime. This is because RLS may be associated with low blood sugar.
- If you took a ferritin level test, and your iron levels were under 60, take 25-50 mg of an iron supplement at bedtime. Take it with 50-100 mg of vitamin C to help you absorb the iron. (Note: If you also take thyroid supplements, don't take the iron within 2-6 hours of the thyroid supplements, as that will prevent the thyroid supplements from being absorbed.)
- Other nutrients, particularly B vitamins and magnesium, can also help calm your legs and muscles while you sleep.
Other than the iron, the nutrients I recommend above are all present at optimal levels in the Energy Revitalization System. Taking that each day along with a separate iron supplement will take care of the vitamin and mineral support needed for these natural options.
Ambien, Klonopin, and especially Neurontin are three prescription medications that can be very helpful for treating both RLS and fibromyalgia in general. Adjust your dosage to just the amount you need to get adequate sleep — and to stop kicking your spouse.
Follow these tips to calm your legs and you'll be getting a healthy night's sleep in no time!
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.