While RLS is most pronounced at night some people feel the need to pace around, or keeping moving their legs while sitting. Others get cramps in their calves or feet.
Dr Michael Platt, author of Adrenalin Dominance, says “Excess adrenalin during the night can cause restless leg syndrome. People often have associated symptoms also resulting from elevated adrenalin, such as teeth grinding, the need to urinate, and tossing and turning, and they often awaken in the morning with low back pain’.
The idea that restless legs is a result of too much adrenalin is also supported by research that shows that levels of the neurotransmitterA neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that carries signals between body cells. They are various types of neurotransmitters which play a major role in everyday… GABA, which switches off adrenalin, are lower in people with restless legs.1 Also, nocturnal blood pressure is higher, which is one of the effects of adrenalin, part of the ‘fight flight’ reaction to get lrapid circulation. Mood disorders are also more common.
Platt says “Characteristically, RLS patients have an excess of adrenalineAdrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands during high stress or exciting situations. This hormone is part of the ‘fight or flight’ response…., may toss and turn all night, be quick to anger, might be workaholics, will usually have fibromyalgia (aches and pains – low back, side of the hips, and grind their teeth), they might drink too much, and will be hypoglycemic (sleepy between 3-4 p.m. or when in a car), and so on. There is an associated over-production of insulinInsulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It is responsible for making the body’s cells absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood…. and an under-production of progesteroneProgesterone is one of the main female sex hormones…..”
The body produces adrenalin under two circumstances. Firstly, as a response to an actual stress to enable the ‘fight flight’ response. Secondly, as a response to low blood sugar levels. The brain is incredibly dependent on a permanent supply of glucose to function. So, when glucose levels in the blood are getting low it triggers an increase in adrenalin, while enables proteinProteins are large molecules consisting of chains of amino acids. Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body – they are a building block of… to be turns into glucose.
If the body detects a low blood sugar in the night, most usually occurring between 2.30 and 3am, up go adrenalin levels, triggering restless legs, the need to pee and other signs of adrenalin activation.
But why would a person’s blood sugar dip at night? Many people, through a lifetime of too much stress, stimulants, sugar and refined foods, lose good blood sugar control and become insulin resistant. Insulin is the first hormone to be released when blood sugar levels rise, to take glucose out of the blood into cells (or storage as fatThere are many different types of fats; polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, hydrogenated, saturated and trans fat. The body requires good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) in order to… if you have more than you need). If you do this too often you start becoming insensitive to insulin. Your body then has to make more to get blood sugar down and this delayed effectiveness often means blood sugar levels go too low, which then triggers adrenalin. It’s all a question of balance.
Restoring blood sugar balance is key
The only real solution is to switch off adrenalin. One part of this is to balance blood sugar so there aren’t the dips that trigger adrenalin release. The way to do this is to follow a low glycemic load (GL) diet. The basic principles include less carbohydrates, and only eating those with a low GL, together with protein to slow down their sugar release, as well as eating ‘little and often’. I recommend three meals and two low GL snacks a day. Exactly how to do this is explained in my GL books such as the Low GL Diet Bible. Go the the low GL section of my website to find out more.
It is also helpful, in the process of recovery from restless legs, to have a low GL snack just before bed. This could be half an apple and a few almonds, or an oatcake with some peanut butter or almond butter, or some berries and plain yoghurt.
Dealing with stress
At the time of writing this report I am just finishing off a book The Stress Cure, with stress expert Susannah Lawson, which addresses the many ways to identify what causes you stress and how you deal with it, and ways to change your life and change how you react. This is also really important to bring down adrenalin levels. One technique we like a lot is HeartMath. This is something you can do just before going to bed. Another method of turning off adrenalin (but it won’t stop blood sugar related middle of the night increases) is to listen to a CD as you go to sleep, or during sleep played very quietly, called Silence of Peace. This is designed to switch the brain out of stimulated mode, reflected by beta brain waves, into a relaxed state of alpha waves.
MagnesiumWhat it does: Strengthens bones and teeth, promotes healthy muscles by helping them to relax, also important for PMS, important for heart muscles and nervous… is also a natural muscle (and mind) relaxant. Muscles need magnesium to relax and those lacking it have muscle cramps, twitches or spasms as a result. A trial of ten restless leg sufferers given magnesium in the evening for four to six weeks found that the magnesium more than halved the number of times they were waking up in the night as a consequence of RLS.2
In the medical literature there is a case of a woman who had had RLS for 13 years, which became very severe during pregnancy. She was prescribed bed rest due to pre-term labour, treatment for which includes intravenous magnesium to relax the muscles. The doctor in charge reported that ‘RLS symptoms completely resolved during treatment, beginning the first day of administration.’3
Progesterone switches off adrenalin.
One of the effects of the hormone progesterone is to switch off adrenalin. Progesterone levels are often low in peri and post menopausal women as it is primarily produced in the ovaries, which start to shut down production during this phase in life. But some women have cycles in which they do not ovulate, in which case there is no progesterone production in the ovaries. Progesterone is also made by the adrenal glands in both men and women.
Dr Michael Platt has reported great success in switching off RLS by giving a natural, or bio-identical progesterone cream. “I have had 100% success with eliminating RLS by getting hormones into balance, often within the first week. Patients feel more relaxed, they can sleep at night, rage disappears, and they can focus more easily.” He says. He also gives men with RLS natural progesterone cream to rub on in the evening before bed.
Natural or bio-identical progesterone acts fast, within minutes, and should be applied to thin skin areas such as the inner arms. In the US it is available over the counter or online. In the UK it is prescribed by a doctor. (Projuven is one prescribed form – for more information contact the Natural Progesterone Information Service www.npis.info. Another useful website is www.bio-hormone-health.com. Have a look at my report on the menopause and bio-identical hormones, if applicable, for more information.
- Winkelman J et al, ‘Restless legs syndrome and central nervous system gamma-aminobutyric acid: preliminary associations with periodic limb movements in sleep and restless leg syndrome symptom severity.’ Sleep Med. 2014 Jun 12. pii: S1389-9457(14)00253-6
- Hornyak M1 et al, ‘Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study.’ Sleep. 1998 Aug 1;21(5):501-5. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9703590]
- Bartell S1, Zallek S. ‘Intravenous magnesium sulfate may relieve restless legs syndrome in pregnancy.’ J Clin Sleep Med. 2006 Apr 15;2(2):187-8.
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