Less frequently diagnosed than sleep disorders like narcolepsy, sleep apnea and insomnia, restless legs syndrome is nonetheless a significant and serious sleep problem.
Characterized by a tingling, crawling or prickling sensation in the legs and feet, restless legs syndrome sufferers experience an overwhelming desire to move their legs in order to find relief.
Many sufferers also find that the symptoms seem to worsen in the late afternoon and evening, especially when sitting or lying down.
Restless legs syndrome can also include instances of periodic limb movement (PLM), a condition characterized by the sudden, involuntary movement or twitching of the legs and feet - often to the extent that it disrupts sleep.
It is the overwhelming desire to move the legs and the frequent presences of periodic limb movement that, in large part, earn restless legs syndrome its classification as a sleep disorder.
Chronic instances of restless legs syndrome make it virtually impossible for the sufferer to get to sleep, let alone stay asleep, thereby generating a related case of severe insomnia.
If left untreated, the condition, and the resulting insomnia, can lead to severe physical and psychological health problems.
In fact, restless legs syndrome is often associated with depression and irritability, as well as occupational, social and marital problems.
As with most common sleep disorders, diagnosing restless legs syndrome can take time and a proper diagnosis requires the attention of an experienced medical professional.
Because some of the symptoms can be associated with other neuromuscular and sleep disorders, it is also important to undergo specialized sleep tests before a diagnosis is confirmed.
These tests can include neurological evaluations, reflex tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as well as somnography (sleep pattern analysis).
Once the diagnosis has been established, the treatment and management of restless legs syndrome can include simple lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments and activities to promote a better night's sleep.
Because the symptoms typically become more severe with fatigue or inactivity, maintaining a regular sleep schedule with a consistent bed time and waking time is extremely important.
Likewise, regular exercise and limited caffeine and nicotine intake can also help limit the neurological stimulation that triggers restless legs symptoms.
Additional options for managing this condition, and other sleep disorders, include massage, yoga and guided meditation for relaxation (a good complement to regular exercise and planned activities for reducing the symptoms of restless legs syndrome) and the use of natural herbal remedies that can help train the body to adhere to a routine sleep cycle and induce a restful and restorative night's sleep.