After a long and tiring day of pregnancy, you lie down in bed to get some sleep. Your body is exhausted, and you feel as though you barely make it under the covers. As you start dozing off, your legs suddenly wake up and you feel as though you could run a marathon. Your only relief is to move them around incessantly, causing a sleepless and frustrating night for both you and your partner.

What is restless leg syndrome?

If this sounds familiar, you’re suffering from restless leg syndrome (RLS). It can happen to anyone, but it commonly occurs during pregnancy. Luckily, when a pregnant woman feels RLS for the first time a few months into her pregnancy, it will go away completely within a month after delivery. Experts are unsure why RLS tends to be more common in pregnancy, but studies show that it might have something to do with iron and folate deficiencies, which are more common for pregnant women. Changes in blood volume might also be the culprit, considering your legs are pumping a lot more blood than usual all day.

Whatever the cause, the syndrome is endlessly irritating. Women with RLS will wake up from a full night of lying in bed feeling as though they barely got a moment of sleep. The feeling is the same as if someone were waking you a few times every hour when you’re trying to get some rest. There is no cure, but there are a few things you can try to minimize symptoms.

What are some lifestyle modifications for restless leg syndrome?

First, make sure that when you lie down in bed, you’re ready to fall asleep. Many women who try reading or watching TV when they lie in bed find that the problem is much worse. If you can get to sleep before the RLS acts up, you might be better off. Also, make sure you speak with your doctor about vitamins and get tested for any deficiencies. Finally, avoid coffee if you’re experiencing RLS. Even a small cup in the morning could make for a particularly restless night of sleep, so don’t assume avoiding a late night cup is the final solution.

If your RLS is seriously causing fatigue and interfering with your daily ability to function, make sure you tell your doctor. He might be able to prescribe something that is both effective and safe during pregnancy to give your tired body the nightly rest it so desperately needs.

Source: Jennifer Hensley et al: Leg Cramps and Restless Leg Syndrome During Pregnancy. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health Volume 54 Issue 3 pp. 211-218 May 2009