Restless Legs Syndrome: Is it ruining your menopause sleep?

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Do you experience unbearable, fidgety, itchy, crawling, aching legs during the night? Has this become another irritating factor interfering with you getting a decent night’s sleep?

The Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN 2011), showed that sleep disturbances increased with age ranging from 16% to 42% in pre-menopause, 39% to 47% in peri-menopause and 35% to 60% in post-menopausal women. The more well-known menopause symptoms impacting on sleep include, hot flushes and night sweats, stress, anxiety and mood swings. As post-menopausal women age, add heart problems, obesity, or urinary problems and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), yet another to add to that ever-expanding list.

What causes Restless Legs Syndrome?

RLS can run (excuse the pun!) in families, occuring in the under 40s, if it's gene-related.

Low levels of iron in the blood may lead to a fall in dopamine, triggering RLS. Peri-menopausal women experiencing heavy periods may want to get their iron levels tested by the GP.

Magnesium is necessary for nerve and muscle function. Deficiency may cause nerve impulse problems.

RLS may occur due to other underlying health conditions, or as a result of another health-related factor including pregnancy, (yes, there’s still a possibility when peri-menopausal!).

Is Restless Legs Syndrome caused by menopause?

Sleep problems associated with menopause, such as insomnia, may increase the chances of RLS and it’s possible that if you are not able to fall asleep you may perceive the increased severity of RLS.

While RLS is linked to menopause, it's not the cause. Interestingly, a 2007 study published in The US Menopause Society's journal, reported that 53% of women over the age of 44 who suffered sleep problems, (possibly linked to menopause) also suffered with RLS. As our female hormones oestrogen and progesterone duck and dive in the lead up to menopause, it's thought that loss of oestrogen impacts on the muscles ability to relax.

Dopamine and Restless Legs Syndrome

Dopamine acts as a messenger between the brain and nervous system, helping to co-ordinate movement. Towards the end of the day, dopamine levels naturally drop, which may explain why RLS is often worse in the evening or through the night.

What triggers Restless Legs Syndrome?

There are certain triggers that won’t necessarily cause RLS, but may make the symptoms worse: high blood pressure, some antidepressants and the usual menopause suspects - alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, stress, lack of exercise & being overweight.

What can you do to help improve Restless Legs Syndrome in menopause?

  • Top of the Hot Flush list of self-help solutions is walking which as well as giving your legs a workout, help with your overall health, well-being and other menopause symptoms
  • Simply stretching your muscles by pointing your toes away from you may help. For more yoga stretching check out our Yoga with Annie: Basic Stretching Exercises.
  • Regular moderate exercise, climbing the stairs and skipping (too much exercise can make RLS worse)
  • Take a hot bath (not too hot though!), adding a couple of cups of Epsom Salts to the water, the magnesium in it can be absorbed through your skin. Lie back and relax for 20 to 30 minutes, about an hour before bedtime. If a bath's not an option then rub magnesium oil onto your body following a shower, or before bedtime, even on the soles of your feet. Try BetterYou Magnesium Oil Goodnight, it's enhanced with natural oils to aid restful sleep.
  • Good hydration is key. Top up your water intake, or drink herbal teas such as chamomile or lemon balm. Adding a dash of turmeric powder and cayenne to a cup of fresh lemon juice and ginger may help circulation and have an anti-cramping effect.
  • Avoid refined white sugar as this may cause blood sugar levels to change and possibly worsen your symptoms.
  • Try a tonic water (without the gin!), it contains quinine which may lessen your muscle contractions. Have a small glass before bedtime.

A registered herbal practitioner may offer alternative natural suggestions for RLS. If symptoms persist, talk to your doctor about other underlying health issues. A Sleep Disorders in Postmenopausal Women report (2015) found, ‘in most cases, hormone replacement therapy does not alter the clinical picture in affected women.’

For more helpful tips to improve your infuriating insomnia checkout our Sleepless Nights and Insomnia symptoms section.