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What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

 What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

An uncontrollable urge to move your legs, especially when you're trying to relax. An uncomfortable sensation deep within your legs that only moving them can relieve. Disrupted sleep and daytime fatigue. Sound familiar?

If so, you could have restless leg syndrome (RLS), a perplexing condition that affects as many as one in 10 Americans. While it’s technically a neurological disorder, RLS is also classified as a sleep disorder, because the constant urge to move your legs can keep you from falling asleep and cause frequent wakings.

The good news is that treatment can help. Our team at Boston Neurobehavioral Associates offers sleep disorder care, and we’re here to help you get to the bottom of your symptoms. Here’s what you should know about what causes this mysterious condition and how you can manage it.

Understanding restless leg syndrome

RLS is a neurological condition that’s characterized by an irresistible urge to move your legs. People with RLS often describe uncomfortable sensations like crawling, creeping, tingling, or burning deep inside their legs.

Although these sensations can strike at any time, they typically occur during periods of rest or inactivity — especially in the evening and at night. RLS can make it almost impossible to fall asleep, and even if you do fall asleep, it can make you wake up throughout the night.

Severely disrupted sleep leads to significant daytime fatigue and impairment. Over time, this chronic sleep disruption can take a toll on both your physical and mental health and even increase your risk of conditions like depression and anxiety.

What causes restless leg syndrome?

The exact cause of restless leg syndrome remains unknown. However, researchers believe it’s linked to abnormalities in the brain's dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate movement and mood, and disruptions in its function may contribute to RLS.


Genetics likely plays a role, too. RLS often runs in families, so your risk of RLS may be higher if a close relative has it. Other potential factors that can trigger or exacerbate symptoms include iron deficiency, pregnancy, certain medications, and underlying medical conditions like peripheral neuropathy and kidney failure.

Treatment options for restless leg syndrome

RLS can be extremely disruptive and frustrating, but treatment is available. Our team starts with a comprehensive analysis of your condition, overall health, and medical history. Then, we develop a customized treatment plan that can include medications, lifestyle changes, or a combination of both. 

Medications for RLS can include dopamine agonists, benzodiazepines, and certain anticonvulsants used “off label.” Depending on your needs, these options can help alleviate RLS symptoms and promote better sleep. We monitor your progress closely and adjust dosages as needed to make sure you get maximum benefit and minimal side effects.

Along with medication, certain lifestyle changes and self-care strategies can help you manage restless leg syndrome. Regular exercise can help reduce symptoms of RLS and improve sleep quality. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days of the week, but avoid vigorous activity close to bedtime, as it can exacerbate symptoms.

Good sleep hygiene is also important. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends; it helps regulate your body's internal clock. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it's time to wind down, and create a comfortable environment that’s conducive to restful sleep.

Living with RLS can feel like a losing battle, but it’s not. Together, medication and lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your symptoms and your quality of life. Find support and personalized care with our team at Boston Neurobehavioral Associates. Contact us to set up your first telehealth appointment today.

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