Restless Legs Syndrome In Children (2021)

Updated May, 2021
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Although restless legs syndrome is more likely to occur in older adults, it can affect children. Roughly 1.5 million adolescents in the United States alone are estimated to suffer from RLS. Additionally, 35 percent of patients report experiencing RLS before their 20th birthdays.

What is restless legs syndrome (RLS)?

Willis-Ekbom disease, more colloquially known as restless legs syndrome, is a disorder in which people have the uncontrollable urge to move their legs. This urge is more likely to occur when patients sit or lie down. Therefore, it's more likely to strike at night, which is why it's often classified as a sleep disorder.

To relieve this discomfort, the sufferer moves the legs. It's akin to scratching an itch. While this provides relief, it can make falling asleep difficult and disturb sleeping partners.

While RLS is often associated with older adults, kids can get it, too. Possible explanations include genetics, growth spurts, or iron deficiencies.

Signs and symptoms of RLS in kids

Parents should take notice if their children mention feeling restless at night. It's important to ask questions and take children to the doctor's office if symptoms persist to avoid a misdiagnosis. If your child mentions any of the following, then it's highly probable the culprit is RLS.

  • Leg discomfort. Most RLS patients report feeling a crawling, pulling, or itching sensation in their legs. Children may talk about this feeling as needing to kick something to scratch an itch in their legs.
  • Daytime fatigue. Since RLS can keep you up at night, many sufferers fail to get an adequate amount of sleep. Kids between the ages of 6 and 12 should get about 9 hours of sleep nightly. Any less than that, and they may feel sleepy at school.
  • Urge to move legs when sitting. RLS doesn't just affect people when lying in bed. It can also affect you when you're just sitting down. If your kid can't stay still in class or at dinnertime, then it may be a result of RLS.
  • Nighttime behavioral issues. Since your child can't stay still at night, he or she may get up and walk around. It's uncomfortable for them to lie in bed.
  • School performance problems. Without sufficient rest, your child may not do as well in school. If you notice grades slipping, then you need to address the root problem.

What causes restless legs in kids?

The causes of RLS in children is pretty much the same as in adults. Some children may temporarily experience RLS due to a growth spurt. In other cases, there may be an underlying medical problem you need to address.

  • Iron deficiency
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney problems
  • Neurological diseases
  • Side effects of medication

What are things I can do to relieve my child's restless legs?

You should take your child to a doctor immediately if you suspect RLS. While there are medications your doctor can prescribe, there are lifestyle changes you can also make to help your child feel more comfortable at night.

  • Make sure your child gets sufficient exercise (at least 15 minutes of moderate activity) daily
  • Avoid sugar or caffeine too close to bedtime
  • Keep your child on a regular sleep schedule where he or she goes to bed at the same time every night, including weekends
  • Run a warm bath for your child to soak

When can I expect my child's restless legs syndrome to end?

For some kids, restless legs syndrome automatically ends once their growth spurt is over. However, if your child's RLS is a result of an underlying medical condition, then you need to seek treatment for that.

Your child may need to take iron supplements or medication to get RLS under control. You should give any of this a few weeks for it to go into effect. By that point, your child should feel a lot better and be able to get a good night's rest.

Will a new mattress help with restless legs?

Even after addressing RLS, your child may still have problems going to sleep at night. At this point, you should look at other factors, including the mattress. Most mattresses are only designed to last for 10 years. Once kids get into their teens, their mattresses may have already passed that point and require replacement.

Old, lumpy mattresses make it difficult to get comfortable at night. Your child may complain of tossing and turning to no avail. It's a good idea to get a new foam or hybrid mattress at this point. That way, your child can sleep soundly and be well-rested the next day at school.

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