At first sight Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) doesn’t seem to be such a big problem. Having to get up a few times in the night to move around can’t really be that distressing, surely?
But if we think about it in terms of ‘sleep deprivation’ we may begin to understand why it is so disturbing and disruptive of normal life. Forcing people to stay awake and go without sleep has been a major part of interrogation techniques used by armed forces throughout the world. It was one of the ‘five techniques’ used by the British Army in Northern Ireland, until it was outlawed by Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1974.
Most students have ‘pulled an all-nighter’ - that last minute desperate cramming before an important exam or test - staying up all night fuelled by coffee in the hopes that last minute information will stick. And they survived. It isn’t recommended, however, because as a technique it doesn’t work that well.
But the effects of chronic sleep disturbance are much more insidious and serious.
It can have a serious and severe impact on many areas of health and work, on relationships and education, and may affect not just the victim but also their partners and family. For the sufferer, severe sleep deprivation will affect concentration, mood, and cognitive ability.
Severe RLS is a deeply unpleasant condition. In a study of the impact on quality of life of sufferers, RLS had a similar effect to other chronic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, and clinical depression. RLS may require a considerable restriction of lifestyle as a result of intolerable symptoms during long airplane or car journeys, lectures or visits to the cinema, dining out, or even family meals.
People with Restless Legs Syndrome are more apt to suffer problems such as social isolation, frequent daytime headaches, and depression. The also complain of lower sex drive and other problems related to insufficient sleep.
RLS can contribute to insomnia. Insomnia itself can increase the activity of hormones and pathways in the brain that produce emotional problems. Even modest changes in waking and sleeping patterns can have significant effects on a person's mood.
Studies have shown that severe RLS is associated with a marked increase in the likelihood of having a stroke, heart disease and asthma attacks. Other studies have shown that there is an increased risk for depression and mental illness and, of course, there is an increased risk for potentially life threatening complications such as car accidents.
So we need to take RLS much more seriously and recognise the health risks that come with it. It seems that many doctors, including neurologists - the specialists who deal with it - simply fail to recognise the devastating impact of this condition. Unfortunately most of the medications which are prescribed for RLS can make symptoms worse in the long term.
For many RLS sufferers alternative therapies provide a much better (and drug free) way of managing symptoms and one such is our ‘acupuncture without needles’ GHET which can be followed in your own home.