Merton came in to my office complaining that he couldn’t sleep. He was tired all day, falling asleep every time he sat down. After some discussion, we found the reason for his sleeplessness: his legs wouldn’t relax, he consistently felt he needed to get up and walk, or move around, all of which is known as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Sometimes, this would wake him up in the middle of the night and he just had to get up and move. The problem had gotten worse since he had quit smoking. When he smoked, he found if he could just take one long drag and hold it in, then the feeling would go away.
We tried many remedies, including sleeping pills and natural sedatives, but nothing worked. I was ready to throw in the towel and tell him to take up smoking again, until I thought that his problem might be related to something in the tobacco – nicotine! Nicotine in tobacco can increase dopamine in the brain and “treat” some people with RLS.
Restless leg syndrome is not a disease; it’s merely a symptom. There are multiple reasons for having this problem so there isn’t one cure for people with RLS. Since most RLS seems to be an imbalance of dopamine in the brain, it has been treated as Parkinson’s disease with dopamine-like drugs such as L-dopa or Requip. The problem with these is that they cause inflammation in the part of the brain that produces dopamine and, over time, can make the problem worse. Before you consult a medical specialist I would recommend trying the following, one at a time:
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