Many migraine suffers are no stranger to insomnia. The headache-sleep connection is a source of frustration for migraineurs, as either too little or too much sleep can trigger migraine, which triggers insomnia, which triggers migraine, and on and on. And if insomnia and migraine were not bad enough, there is also a link between migraine and restless legs syndrome.
There have been enough patients studied with both conditions that we can definitively say that there is a link between migraine headaches and restless legs syndrome, but that’s where the certainty stops. The pathophysiology of the link between the two conditions is not understood. Researchers believe that there may be a genetic connection. Another popular theory is that people who suffer from migraines and restless legs syndrome have circadian profiles (the natural rhythm of your body that tells you when to sleep) that are different that people without the conditions.
What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome is a condition that can greatly reduce your quality of life if you are not able to get the sleep you need, especially if a lack of sleep is a migraine trigger for you. Most people with restless legs syndrome have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep because they experience throbbing, creeping sensations in their legs when they try to rest at night. The uncomfortable sensations are usually accompanied by the overwhelming urge to move the legs.
Up to 10% of Americans have restless legs syndrome. The disorder doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your legs – it’s a neurological disorder caused by nerve sensations and the way they are processed in your brain. The sleep deprivation caused by restless legs syndrome can have a major impact on your life.
Some people with the condition are not able to concentrate or remember things and are not able to carry out the functions of their jobs or even activities of daily living. Restless legs syndrome can lead to serious depression in some people with the disorder.
Getting Treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome with Migraines
As a migraine sufferer, migraines have probably dominated your concerns when you visit with your neurologist or migraine doctor. However, if you have symptoms of restless legs syndrome like throbbing or tremors in your legs when you rest, it’s important to tell your doctor about these symptoms. Treating the restless legs may lead to better sleep, better quality of life and reduced migraine frequency.
- Gupta, R., Spence, D. W., BaHammam, A. S., Monti, J. M., & Pandi-Perumal, S. R. (2014). Association between migraine and restless legs syndrome. Somnologie-Schlafforschung und Schlafmedizin, 18(2), 121-126.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2015, July 27). Restless legs syndrome fact sheet, NIH publication No. 10-4847.