Harvard Women's Health Watch

What to do about restless legs syndrome

Bedtime is far from relaxing for women with this common condition.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensory-motor disorder that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs, often accompanied by an uncomfortable "creepy-crawly" sensation. RLS affects 3% to 5% of adults and is twice as common in women as in men. Symptoms typically flare at night, just as you're settling down in bed, but they may also arise when you're resting in a chair. RLS not only causes discomfort and distress, but can also wreak havoc on sleep, causing daytime sleepiness and mood changes. Fortunately, certain lifestyle strategies can help you manage milder forms of RLS, and several medications can provide relief for more serious symptoms.

There's a common mistaken belief that RLS refers to the jittery, leg-bouncing movements some people make when they're anxious or overstimulated. Partly because of this, the RLS Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides information about the disorder, is lobbying to change its name officially from RLS to Willis-Ekbom disease (see "What's in a name?"). According to the foundation, the term "restless legs" trivializes a problem that can have a "severe and profound" impact on sleep and daily functioning.

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