This Common Sleep Disorder Can Increase Your Risk Of Cardiovascular Death

As active as you may be during your waking life, sleep is vital to help sustain you physically and mentally. Without quality sleep, you might find yourself more irritable during the day while also having problems focusing on work. Most people need at least seven hours of sleep each night, but the American Psychiatric Association says about 30% of people get less than six. It's not that some people are staying up too late binge-watching shows.

While it's common to experience a sleepless night every once in a while, people with a sleep disorder experience a condition affecting their sleep at least three nights a week for three months or longer. The National Institutes of Health estimates that as many as 70 million people don't get enough sleep because they have a sleep disorder.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, but restless legs syndrome (RLS) can affect up to 10% of the population. RLS is a condition of the nervous system that is considered both a sleep disorder and a movement disorder. Although RLS is sometimes linked to other conditions, some studies have found that RLS is linked to a higher risk of death apart from other health factors.

Restless legs syndrome affects mortality in men and women

A 2017 study in Neurology followed 57,000 women to see if RLS led to a higher risk of death. Even though women with RLS didn't have a higher risk of death from any cause, they had a 43% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those women without RLS. Meanwhile, no links between RLS and other diseases such as cancer were observed.

RLS can affect the risk of death in men regardless of other health factors, according to a 2013 study in Neurology. This study tracked more than 18,000 men and found that men with RLS had a 39% risk of death compared to other men of the same age. When considering factors like weight, lifestyle, health conditions, and sleep, the risk of death was still at 30% for men with RLS. The risk of death was 92% higher if the men had other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or cancer. Those with RLS who died often had respiratory, endocrine, metabolic, or immunologic conditions.

Treating restless legs syndrome

People with RLS will feel discomfort in their legs that is so extreme that they feel the need to move them. The sensation might feel like itching or crawling later in the day or when your body is trying to rest. Even though moving your legs brings temporary relief, the discomfort returns when you're still. Because it's hard to sleep when you have RLS, you're also likely to have mood changes, excessive fatigue during the day, and issues with cognition such as memory and concentration. Although RLS might be related to your genetics, it's still not clear what causes this condition (per the National Institutes of Health).

There's no cure for RLS, but it can be treated through medication and lifestyle changes. Iron supplements, opioids, benzodiazepines, and anti-seizure drugs like gabapentin can relieve some of the symptoms of RLS. Because involuntary movements of the body are sometimes linked with a disturbance of dopamine levels in the brain, medications that increase dopamine levels are sometimes prescribed for RLS. Milder cases of RLS can be treated by avoiding or limiting alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. Moderate exercise incorporating aerobics and stretching might also alleviate RLS symptoms. Using heat, such as a heating pad or a warm bath, could also ease moderate RLS.