Mom Who Suffers From RLS Reveals It's Almost Cost Her a Happy Marriage

restless leg syndrome

Linda Ryan's Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition she's lived with for more than a decade. 

The mom of two first noticed what she described as "twitchy" sensations in her legs, particularly at bedtime or during the night, shortly after her 50th birthday. While she thought she was suffering in silence, her frequent movements, which only temporarily alleviate her discomfort, began ruining her husband's sleep as well.

"My sleep was affected, which was bad enough," says Ryan, now 61. "When it was keeping him awake too, I understood why he wanted to move to the spare bedroom."

The Ryans aren't alone. According to Susan Schlichting, RLS support group leader in Southern California, 34 percent of people with the condition sleep in separate beds from their spouses. 

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Just how widespread is RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease? Approximately one in 10 adults in America suffers from the condition, according to SleepFoundation.org.

While RLS affects both genders, it is more common in women and, in most cases, the cause is unknown. It can often occur as a secondary condition in those with iron deficiencies, which could explain why it affects approximately a third of pregnant women.

"It's often referred to as the most common disease people don't know they have," says Schlichting, who has battled the disorder herself for more than 25 years. 

While the degree of discomfort may range from mild to unbearable, most complain of similar symptoms, including feeling itchy, pins-and-needles sensations, coupled with the urgent need to move their legs, especially when at rest. Though it's considered a disorder of the nervous system, RLS also falls into the sleep disorder category because of its impact on getting some shut-eye.

"It's a really disabling disease," Schlichting notes. "The fatigue during the day from lack of sleep can be overwhelming. You can also get to the point where you dread going to sleep at night." 

Another way RLS impacts quality of life and marriage, Schlichting explains, is that it causes you to start avoiding many of the things you once enjoyed. 

"Sitting on the couch, watching television, going to the movies, hearing a lecture, driving at night, all of those things become extremely unpleasant," she notes. "You find yourself multitasking, doing anything possible to avoid sitting down." 

While medication can ease the condition a bit, Schlichting says it "never lets you totally forget what you have."

For many, the only comfort is moving the legs, but the following suggestions may offer some relief, according to David J. Hufford, PhD, who serves on the editorial board of Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine

Because researchers believe RLS may be tied to not getting enough exercise during the day, some recommend increasing activity levels, while at the same time decreasing caffeine intake, which may also be a culprit.

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet could help alleviate symptoms.

Schlichting says she has found over time that certain foods act as "triggers," so she avoids them.

"It's very personal, what affects one person might not affect another, but chocolate, alcohol, and sugar are fairly common ones," she says. 

Sticking to a regular bedtime routine to get your body into a habit and rhythm can help, Hufford recommends. A warm bath, which soothes muscles, is sometimes beneficial. Experts also note that many RLS sufferers have cold feet, so wearing a pair of socks to bed may keep you more comfortable. 

Leading the support group has been a comfort to Schlichting, who says that the community shares hope for new advancements to help better manage the symptoms. 

"Being robbed of your sleep is the hardest part, because that affects your overall health," she says.

Have you ever experienced Restless Leg Syndrome? 


Image via Turbo/Corbis

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