Restless legs syndrome is a sleep-related disorder that affects approximately 10% of the U.S. population. It is characterized by an irresistible need to move the legs, particularly when trying to sleep. The urge to move the legs is often accompanied by an incessant creeping, crawling, tingling or pulling sensation in the calves of the legs. Research studies suggest that the cause of the disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain or iron deficiency.
Symptoms of the disorder may occur during sleep and wakefulness, however they are most severe in the evening and nighttime hours. The irresistible urge to move the legs is generally relieved by movement, such as stretching, jiggling one’s legs, pacing or walking.
Individuals with restless legs syndrome tend to have difficulty falling or staying asleep and suffer from chronic sleep loss. Treatment of the disorder includes behavioral changes and medications.
A similar condition to restless legs syndrome, known as periodic limb movement disorder, only occurs at night. Individuals with this disorder are often unaware that they have the condition since muscles in their legs contract involuntarily throughout the night, partially awakening them. Symptoms of periodic limb movement disorder include involuntary leg twitching, kicking or jerking movements throughout the night resulting in disrupted sleep. Periodic limb movement disorder tends to increase in frequency with age.