If you’ve been sitting in class for a couple hours or working at a desk all afternoon, you might find yourself getting a little restless, you might fidget, stretch a little or start jiggling your leg up and down, we all get a little jittery after sitting for too long but some people experience an irresistible urge to move called restless leg syndrome or RLS and it can severely affect their daily lives. RLS is a neurological condition that creates a throbbing or pulling sensation in the legs and an overwhelming need to move these sensations can get worse when you sit or lie down making it really difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep but haven’t we all had some uncomfortable nights of tossing and turning in bed like if you are hot or sick or just stressed out about that thing you have to do tomorrow, because of this some people think RLS isn’t a real problem that it’s just a symptom of something else like anxiety but it turns out doctors and scientists have plenty of evidence that this condition is its own thing. For one it seems to run in families so it could be a genetic disorder, also RLS has been linked to low iron levels in the blood which indicates the bigger problem, problems with dopamine signaling in the region of your brain known as the basal ganglia, your body needs iron to create dopamine which is an important chemical used to send signals within the brain in the basal ganglia. Dopamine as part of a pathway that makes decisions about starting muscle movement so when you have normal amounts of dopamine, this pathway sends messages to other parts of the brain so you can make smooth controlled movements but when you don’t have normal amounts of dopamine, the messages get messed up and you can develop movement disorders like RLS or Parkinson’s disease with throbbing or shaking muscles, many people with mild RLS might not even be aware they have it but it’s more serious.
What can be done to help? sometimes doctors suggest sleeping with a vibrating pad underneath your legs to counteract the uncomfortable muscle sensations of RLS, if you have low iron levels you might be prescribed iron supplements and medications called dopamine agonists, they can trick your brain cells into thinking they’ve received dopamine signals when there actually isn’t enough of it, this can fix the pathway and dramatically improve the painful sensations of RLS so there you have it, sometimes jiggly legs or sleepless nights aren’t just some passing jitters but if you’ve been hunched over your computer watching YouTube for a while, you might want to go take a stretch.