A Common Cause of Poor Sleep for Leaders

A Common Cause of Poor Sleep for Leaders / Alessandra Edwards

Recently, I’ve been rewatching the entire “Seinfeld” series with my son, who’s now 11 and just about mature enough to grasp most of the humour. In one of my favourite episodes, Kramer finds himself in a sleepless saga courtesy of his girlfriend’s “jimmy legs”—a comic take on restless legs syndrome (RLS). As Kramer battles sleep deprivation, the episode humorously taps into the chaos that restless legs can unleash in the night.

Yet, for those who genuinely suffer from RLS, it’s no laughing matter. Picture this: an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, with sensations that feel like invisible critters scurrying under your skin. It’s as irritating as it sounds, and far more common than you might think, affecting up to 15% of the population.

This peculiar ailment isn’t new; it’s been a thorn in our ancestors’ sides for centuries. Ancient Chinese medicine texts mention it, and back in 1672, the English physician Sir Thomas Willis described it as causing sufferers a “great disturbance and tossing of their members.” Despite its long history, restless legs continue to pester us, prompting everything from mild annoyance to full-blown sleep disruption.

So, what’s behind this irksome condition? Well, the causes are as varied and unpredictable as Melbourne’s infamous weather patterns.

Common Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome

1. Dopamine Imbalances: Research suggests that abnormalities in dopamine levels or receptor sensitivity in the brain may contribute to RLS. Dopamine plays a crucial role in regulating movement and mood, and its dysregulation can lead to restless sensations in the legs.

Interestingly, I often see genetic mutations in dopamine receptor genes in clients diagnosed with RSL.

2. Iron Deficiency or Excess: Just like Goldilocks’ porridge, iron levels must be just right. Too little or too much can stir up trouble by influencing dopamine synthesis and wreaking havoc on leg comfort.

3. Nutrient Deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamins such as B12, B6, and folate, as well as minerals like magnesium, can exacerbate RLS symptoms. These nutrients are vital for neurotransmitter function and muscle relaxation, affecting the severity of restless leg sensations.

4. Medication Side Effects: Certain medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antihistamines, can worsen RLS symptoms or trigger them as a side effect. Adjusting medication regimens under medical supervision may help alleviate symptoms.

5. Glutamate-GABA Imbalances: Imbalances between glutamate (a stimulating neurotransmitter) and GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter) can affect nervous system excitability and may play a role in RLS.

While the connection between high glutamate and RLS is well-documented, recent research has also identified a genetic link between genes responsible for GABA production—the body’s own brake system—and RLS. A tussle between these neurotransmitters can leave your nervous system more jittery than a caffeine-overloaded espresso.

Strategies to balance these neurotransmitters through diet and lifestyle changes may provide relief.

6. Gut Health: Inflammatory conditions of the gut, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can impact nutrient absorption and trigger systemic inflammation, potentially worsening RLS symptoms.

7. Food Sensitivities: Sensitivities to certain foods or food additives (like MSG) can exacerbate inflammation or trigger neurological reactions that contribute to RLS symptoms. Identifying and avoiding trigger foods may help manage symptoms.

8. Hormonal Factors: Fluctuations in hormones, particularly during pregnancy or perimenopause, can influence RLS symptoms. Oestrogen dominance or changes in oestrogen-progesterone balance may contribute to symptom severity in some individuals.

9. Stress and Histamine Levels: Stress and elevated histamine levels have been associated with worsening RLS symptoms. If you metabolise histamine slowly due to genetic mutations, nutrient deficiencies, or an imbalanced gut microbiome, you may be more at risk of RLS.

Managing stress through relaxation techniques and addressing underlying histamine imbalances may help alleviate symptoms.

10. Genetic Predisposition: While the genetic secrets of RLS are still being decoded, it’s clear there’s a hereditary angle that might predispose some to these restless antics, as a family history of RLS is a significant predictor of this condition.

If you find yourself unable to settle your legs at night, constantly moving them for relief, or experiencing the sensations described here, it might be time to discuss with a healthcare professional. Restless legs syndrome is often undiagnosed, and some individuals may mistake their twitchy legs for normal discomfort.

Early intervention could offer strategies for relief, helping you reclaim the night and ensure your legs aren’t keeping you up when you’d rather be dreaming.

After all, managing RLS effectively means you can finally put those restless legs to rest and maybe, just maybe, enjoy the quieter episodes of life—or “Seinfeld”—in peace.