What is Restless Leg Syndrome and What Causes it?

Restless legs syndrome RLS (willis ekbom disease) is a neurological condition causing a crawling or tingling sensation in the legs. Typically occurring when resting or falling asleep, the urge to move the legs is overwhelming, you will rub your legs or rub your feet together to get some relief. Almost 10% of the U.S. population is managing RLS. While symptoms can cause excessive daytime sleepiness affecting your cognitive ability, mood, relationships with loved ones, and productivity, restless leg syndrome can be treated with holistic remedies, medications, and non-invasive remedies.   

People with RLS feel a crawling, itching, pulling, or throbbing sensation in the legs

What are the Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome? 

The symptoms of RLS make it almost impossible to rest and sleep at night. With symptoms worse at night twitching or jerking is common when trying to fall asleep. People with RLS feel a crawling, itching, pulling, or throbbing sensation in the legs. Symptoms are most severe at night when trying to sleep. During an active day, symptoms are less noticeable. Insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness can be side effects of restless leg syndrome as getting restorative sleep at night is difficult. 

  • Crawling, itching, pulling, or throbbing sensation in the legs
  • Symptoms most noticeable at night when trying to sleep
  • Insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness from lack of restorative sleep  

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

The national institute of neurological disorders and stroke says that RLS is hereditary for most with symptoms appearing before the age of 40. Iron deficiency in the brain has also been linked to Restless legs syndrome RLS. There are certain medical conditions that have restless leg syndrome as a secondary condition. End-stage renal disease and hemodialysis, alcohol addiction, peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves), and even the third trimester of pregnancy can be accompanied by RLS. 

Those with Parkinson's disease could be afflicted with RLS

The basal ganglia part of the brain that controls movement relies on dopamine in the neural pathways to process physical movement. Any disturbance in these pathways causes a disruption in function. Those with Parkinson's disease could be afflicted with RLS as this disorder also occurs in the basal ganglia section of the brain.

Risk Factors

  • Most people notice Restless legs syndrome RLS symptoms are most intense in middle age 
  • Women are more likely than men to get RLS 
  • Those with End-stage renal disease and hemodialysis, alcohol addiction, peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves) may experience RLS
  • A family history of Restless legs syndrome RLS
  • A side effect of medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines, antinausea, and antipsychotic drugs 
  • Those of Northern European descent are more likely to develop RLS than other ethnicities 
  • Some women develop RLS in their third trimester of pregnancy 
  • RLS causes sleep deprivation, which can exacerbate illnesses such as depression, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes     

How is Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosed?

While there are no diagnostic tests for Restless legs syndrome RLS, your doctor will pay close attention to the description of symptoms. A diagnosis for RLS will be confirmed if the patient has an overwhelming urge to move the legs particularly at night time when trying to sleep, symptoms decrease when moving around, and other illnesses have been ruled out. 

Periodic limb movement disorder PLMD can be diagnosed during a sleep study and strengthen an RLS diagnosis

Physical and neurological tests may be performed, full medical history will be examined, and a list of current medications will be taken. Keeping a diary of symptoms could be helpful for the physician. The patient may need to undergo a sleep study to rule out a sleep disorder. Periodic limb movement disorder PLMD can be diagnosed during a sleep study and strengthen an RLS diagnosis.  

Restless Leg Treatment Options 

There are many treatment options available for RLS. Lifestyle changes can be quite effective as they improve your overall health and mental wellbeing. Eating a healthy diet rich in nourishing food, drinking water, taking vitamin supplements, exercising, and getting fresh air can ease illness and aid recovery. Falling asleep and staying asleep is more easily achieved when in good health, a healthy nervous system is potent sleep medicine. 

In some cases, a simple iron supplement can be enough to combat RLS but in more extreme cases a stronger medication may be necessary. Anti-seizure drugs, opioids, and benzodiazepines are not long-term solutions and come with a long list of side effects and potential addiction. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) could be more common in RLS patients. Further research is needed but there is a potential link between gut health and RLS. There is an old saying ‘death begins in the colon’, a toxic digestive system keeps toxins in your body instead of releasing them through the colon, resulting in dis-ease. Eat plenty of probiotics, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha. Supplements are a good alternative too.    


Restless leg syndrome is easily diagnosed and has many treatment options. For many RLS patients, simple lifestyle changes and iron supplementation are enough to relieve symptoms. If you are unable to fall asleep and stay asleep because of the urge to move your legs, try a deep breathing meditation to relax your mind and body. Feeling stressed and anxious will exacerbate a sleep disorder, prolonging and exacerbating symptoms. Join a support group for advice, speaking to people who are going through a shared experience can make you feel better and help you cope with symptoms when they are getting you down.   

How to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome at Home? 

Treating Restless legs syndrome RLS at home with holistic remedies is centered around lifestyle changes and supplements. Eating well, exercising, enjoying fresh air and nature, taking iron and vitamin B supplements can improve health and mental wellbeing. Relieving anxiety (especially at night when trying to sleep) through meditation could ease symptoms of RLS.   

What Medications can I take for Restless Leg Syndrome?

When lifestyle changes, supplements, and vitamins are unable to improve your RLS symptoms, or you are managing a severe case of RLS. Strong medication such as anti-seizure drugs, opioids, and benzodiazepines could be beneficial but have nasty side effects including addiction. Probiotics could also be beneficial in combating RLS as healthy gut flora is linked to good overall health.  

How to Sleep Better With Restless Leg Syndrome

People with RLS are more likely to suffer from a sleep disorder because this is when RLS symptoms are most active. When resting and trying to sleep at night, the urge to move the legs is strong and keeps you awake. Consult your doctor for a treatment plan, exercise 3-5 per week, and eat healthily will improve your overall health.