One of the common complaints women have during the menopause years is sleep disturbances, such as insomnia and night sweats. Get ready to add yet another sleep-related symptom to the list: restless legs syndrome.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Have you experienced an uncontrollable urge to move your legs because something doesn’t feel quite right? Does moving your legs ease the uncomfortable sensation you are experiencing? Then you could have restless legs syndrome. This condition typically occurs in the evening while you are sitting, lying down, or sleeping. It usually occurs on both sides of the body and can affect the feet as well. It also can occur while you are sitting in a car, plane, or other situation for an extended period of time. It also may occur among pregnant women, but it typically resolves once the baby is delivered.
Restless legs syndrome (aka Willis-Ekbom disease) can develop at any age and it usually worsens as you get older. The fact that it disrupts sleep is especially important because lack of sufficient sleep has far-reaching impacts, from causing memory problems to being dangerous when driving or not allowing proper production of hormones.
If you have restless legs syndrome, you may also experience sensations such as creeping, throbbing, aching, itching, electricity, crawling, and pulling. These feelings can change in severity and even stop for periods of time before coming back again.
Experts are not certain what causes restless legs syndrome. One idea is the presence of a dopamine imbalance in the brain. This chemical sends signals to control muscle activity.
How is restless legs syndrome associated with menopause?
Menopause does not cause restless legs syndrome. However, the chances of developing restless legs syndrome may increase if you are experiencing insomnia and other sleep-related problems during menopause. It’s been suggested that the decline in estrogen may contribute to an inability of the muscles to relax. In one study, for example, 53 percent of women older than 44 who experience sleep problems also had restless leg syndrome.
How can you manage restless legs syndrome naturally?
Here are a few natural ways to manage restless legs syndrome and ease the symptoms.
- For some women, an iron deficiency is the underlying cause of restless legs syndrome. You should verify this before taking iron supplements by undergoing a blood test to determine your iron level.
- Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco all can make symptoms of restless legs syndrome worse. Reducing your use of these substances could reduce symptoms.
- Are you taking Benadryl, antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, lithium, fluoxetine or other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or tricyclic antidepressants? Reducing or avoiding use of these drugs may help reduce symptoms.
- Check your vitamin D level. A deficiency of this vitamin could be associated with restless legs syndrome. Individuals with a vitamin D deficiency who took supplements experienced a reduction in restless legs symptoms, according to the findings of one study.
- Magnesium is known as a mineral that helps with muscle contractions and relaxation. A daily dose of 400 mg can be helpful, but check with your healthcare provider before taking the supplement.
- Aerobic and resistance training can significantly reduce symptoms of restless legs syndrome. In a 2006 study, 12 weeks of training three times a week resulted in this reduction.
- Yoga has been shown to reduce restless legs symptoms in several studies. In one study, yoga also reduced stress and improved mood, both of which were helpful in improving sleep.
- Special stimulating devices may reduce symptoms. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two devices: one is a foot wrap that applies pressure to the bottom of the feet and the other is a pad placed on the back of the legs where it delivers vibration.
- Acupuncture is another option. One study found that use of acupuncture for six weeks greatly reduced excessive leg activity.
when you should see a doctor
If your restless legs syndrome is causing you to lose significant sleep, interferes with your daily activities, or reduces your quality of life, then you should seek advice from a qualified medical professional as soon as possible.
Restless legs syndrome can be part of the sleep problems experienced by many women during the menopausal years. Fortunately there are some safe, natural ways to help alleviate the symptoms.