3 Real Women With 3 Real Sleep Problems
We asked WebMD's sleep expert to help these tired ladies learn to get some shut-eye again.
Restless Leg Syndrome: Like Bugs Under the Skin continued...
"The sleep deprivation was just becoming a slow death," says Kaiser. "It was
eating away at my health, and honestly, there were times when I never thought I
would make it."
Kaiser finally learned her nocturnal symptoms had a name: restless leg
syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder of the part of the nervous system that
affects the legs, usually at night. For this reason, RLS is also considered a
The Sleep Doctor’s Rx for Restless Leg Syndrome
The cost of sleepless nights is enormous for people with RLS, so finding
relief is essential. Kaiser’s case in particular is more rare and extreme,
Breus says, because of the bodywide symptoms. But although there is no cure,
RLS can be mastered. Doctors still aren’t sure what causes RLS in the first
Go for iron. "I'd start by getting her iron levels evaluated,
including ferritin, a protein that binds to iron," Breus says. "Some studies
show RLS symptoms are mimicked by low ferritin. Anything lower than 60 ng/mL
(nanograms/milliliter) might be making her symptoms worse. Certain brain
receptors that help cells absorb iron may have gone awry, which is one cause of
RLS. Boosting iron may mean less leg movement and more sleep for Kaiser."
Boost the brain. Medications (usually dopamine agonists) for RLS can
be a further sleep solution for Kaiser. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain
that controls body movements. If dopamine signals aren’t working properly
between nerve cells, RLS can result. A dopamine agonist might get these
important receptors back on track.
Get active. Even though Kaiser says exercise is hard for her now,
"it’s an important part of her prescription for sleep," Breus says. "She should
try to push through her fatigue, because activity will reduce her symptoms as
soon as six weeks after she starts a routine and builds muscle strength."
Keep in mind. With her iron in check, the next step is "mind over
muscles" when her head hits the pillow -- that is, the more engaged her mind
is, the less her muscles will move. "To do that, she could try reading or
working Sudoku or crossword puzzles in the evening to occupy her mind," Breus
suggests. "That sort of mental focus will allow her to relax and minimize the
Ditch the drinks. Finally, Kaiser should skip alcohol. Drinking can
make RLS symptoms up to three times worse.
Today, at 45, Kaiser’s RLS is under control (the symptoms are never entirely
gone, just lessened), and she’s getting more sleep. She has learned to control
her symptoms by painting in the evening to get a mental edge over her body and
walking several times a week for her physical health and her RLS. She works
closely with her doctor to manage her medication, supplements her iron intake
with prescription iron pills, and has given up social drinking.
"Before I was diagnosed, sleep was something that was totally foreign to
me," says Kaiser. "Now, I am sleeping better and feeling better -- and that
makes all the difference in my ability to enjoy my life."