During our Facebook chat on sleep and health with patient advocate Mary Shomon, one participant mentioned that achy legs at night were interfering with her ability to sleep. This raises an interesting question: If aching legs are causing sleep problems, what could be going on?
One of the most common causes of leg cramps and pain is magnesium deficiency. In fact, a key symptom of magnesium deficiency is cramps, spasms, pain and aches in the legs and feet.
If you notice aching in the legs and/or feet at night, ask your physician to check magnesium levels via a blood test at your next checkup. In the meantime, you can safely do a trial of supplementing with magnesium to see if it helps resolve the leg symptoms.
If you are not getting enough magnesium from your diet, consider supplementing, but keep in mind that guidelines recommend limiting supplementation to no more than 350 mg a day.
Magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms is absorbed more completely and is more bioavailable than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate forms.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Throbbing painful legs at night may also be a symptom of a condition known as Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS. RLS is a neurological condition, and symptoms can also include crawling, itching or other unusual sensations in the legs, along with an urge to move the legs for relief. RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
A few facts about RLS, from the National Institutes of Health:
- As many as 10 percent of the U.S. population may have RLS.
- Moderate to severe RLS affects approximately 2-3 percent of adults — and an added 5 percent appear to be affected by a milder form.
- Childhood RLS is estimated to affect almost 1 million school-age children, with one-third having moderate to severe symptoms.
- RLS occurs in both men and women, although the incidence is about twice as high in women.
If your doctor suspects RLS, he/she will likely run blood work to rule out vitamin deficiencies (i.e., iron and magnesium, among others), as well as a sleep study, along with a detailed health history and evaluation of symptoms.
In some cases, supplemental iron, folate, or magnesium can help, and a variety of other medications–including gabapentin and benzodiazepines–may also be prescribed.