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The Annoying Disorder Robbing Pregnant Women of Sleep

Photograph by Twenty20

Pregnant women often complain about having difficulty sleeping at night and being exhausted during the day. For the most part, the complaints are attributed to pregnancy itself. It's expected you'll have a hard time sleeping and be tired because of hormones, a changing body, an increasing need to pee at night and so many other pregnancy symptoms. However, a new study suggests that pregnant women with restless legs syndrome (RLS) are two times more likely to report poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness, as well as lack of ability to function during the day, than those without RLS.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological sensory disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs often described as “prickly,” “pins and needles” or “creepy-crawly.” These sensations are accompanied by an intense urge to move the legs. Since the severity of symptoms increases at night when a person is trying to sleep, it's also considered a sleep disorder.

RLS can appear or worsen during pregnancy, which could explain why researchers were not surprised that 36 percent of the women they studied had RLS, but what they did find surprising was that half of the women had severe symptoms.

“While we expected that RLS would be relatively common in pregnant women, we were surprised to observe just how many had a severe form,” said lead author Galit Levi Dunietz, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center in Ann Arbor. “These women experienced RLS symptoms at least four times per week.”

The study included 1,563 pregnant women, with an average age of 30 years old, who were in their third trimester. Standardized criteria of self-reported symptoms and frequency were used to diagnose RLS and medical records were used for demographic and pregnancy data. Questionnaires were used to collect self-reported sleep information.

Although there's no cure for RLS, the findings of this study are important because pregnant women’s lack of sleep and subsequent exhaustion complaints are often dismissed by health care providers as just a normal part of being pregnant.

“These sleep-wake disturbances are considered common symptoms in pregnancy and are frequently attributed to physiological changes that occur in normal pregnancy, but our data suggest that RLS is an additional contributor to these symptoms,” said Dunietz.

What this all boils down to is that if women suffering with RLS during pregnancy are properly diagnosed, then non-pharmacological treatments could be used to help these tired mamas-to-be get some much-needed sleep.

As for baby, you can rest easy knowing that the study found no evidence for any association between RLS and delivery outcome.

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