Twitches trigger sleep research

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    By CHRIS FLEMING

    (U-WIRE) NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Every night, millions of Americans lie down on comfortable beds to await a refreshing and invigorating dreamless sleep. However, as some people slowly drift off into unconsciousness, they may experience a slight involuntary twitching of an arm or leg that can interrupt the Sandman’s visit.

    A medical phenomenon known as Restless Leg Disorder may be the cause of this grief and insomnia. Researched by Dr. Arthur Walters, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the disorder has some victims up in arms about losing some “zzzz’s.”

    The Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation said the disorder has been documented as early as the 17th century. A study done by the foundation finds up to five percent of the population suffers from the syndrome during some stage of their lives.

    Beginning as either a slight twitch or a trivial pain, Walters explained the illness as having four significant steps. Primarily affecting a person’s legs, the first symptom is the victim’s desire to move the influenced limb.

    Whether the need is to scratch or “walk off” the sore area, the craving interrupts the concentration one may have for sleeping.

    Either by getting up and walking around or just flexing it repeatedly, some motion of the affected leg may be “required” to alleviate the problem. This is the second sign, according to Walters.

    “The person may want to use voluntary strategies,” he said.

    While these methods among others may help eliminate the irritation, the persistence for relaxation may be discontinued and instead of resting, this annoyance may have the sleeper moving around trying to ease the affected area.

    A third indication of Restless Leg Syndrome is the increased irritation of symptoms during the nighttime hours.

    Like allergies and other ailments, this disorder has a greater impact at night, which makes sleeping more difficult and relaxation nearly impossible.

    Walters suggests people with this disorder should try to “change their sleeping schedule. Since the symptoms have been found to be worse at night, some patients get a good sleep during the late morning.”

    Among the other warnings of the illness is an increased amount of annoyance during a relaxed moment. “The discomforts may become worse when lying down in bed,” said Walters. Activity may take a person’s mind off of the problem and may eliminate the irritation altogether.

    Walters said that while the illness may deprive a victim of sleep, there are suggestions that can ensure a good night’s rest. An avoidance of soda and cutting back on chocolate may lessen the symptoms as caffeine is a great instigator of difficulties in RLS. And while exercise may help alleviate some of the complications of the illness, excessive amounts can prove to be just as harmful. Also, certain medications, such as dopamine and opiate-based anti-seizure medicines can remedy the disorder.

    Iron deficiency may also cause the syndrome, Walters said.

    But even though these methods may help relieve some obstacles, there are genetic factors involved in this illness, too. A considerable influence is age.

    While Restless Leg Syndrome in children can be seen more as “growing pains” rather than an actual ailment, this disturbing disarray affects more middle-aged and older people.

    “And it tends to get worse as years go by,” Walters said.

    According to Walters, however, complications can even occur at early ages as one of the patients he works with is 6-years-old.

    Restless Leg Syndrome has been found to be hereditary as well. “One third to one half of the cases are inheritant. There is a dominant gene that passes onto the next generation,” Walters said.

    Specifically in children, Walters has discovered there is a direct connection between Restless Leg Syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder.

    Similar to resting at night, sitting at a school desk situates a student in a stationary situation “causing the mind to wander,” Walters said. “This creates irritability during the day because of the disruption at night.”

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