Restless Legs Syndrome

What is it?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a common sleep disorder affecting between 10-24 percent of adults.

Risks and symptoms

RLS sufferers generally experience limb movements that cause discomfort and insomnia when in bed. The clinical definition of RLS includes the presence of at least four features: (1) an intense urge to move the legs (or other body parts), (2) the triggering by rest or inactivity, (3) temporary relief by movement, and (4) a worsening during the evening and night. Supportive features include associated sleep disturbance and periodic limb movements during sleep. Fifty percent of sufferers experience delayed sleep. The frequency of symptoms varies from nightly to only a few nights per month.

Women are twice as likely to suffer from RLS as men, and it often begins early in life. Secondary causes of RLS include pregnancy, renal failure, iron deficiency anemia, and certain neurological disorders.

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is a related disorder that involves repetitive limb movements during sleep. PLMD may be clinically relevant if the patient suffers from hypersomnia or disrupted sleep as a result of the problem.


The evaluation of RLS includes taking a clinical history, performing a physical exam to exclude possible neuropathy, and obtaining lab studies. Therapy includes interventions such as increased physical exercise, hot baths, and the avoidance of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.