Insomnia - acute or chronic - has many allies, contributing conditions that cause us to suffer greatly in the quest for proper rest. Caffeine, alcohol, artificially bright lights after 3pm, they are all culprits. An under-active pineal gland, due to any number of reasons, can cause a lack in the body's melatonin production - yet another very common culprit for a bout of insomnia.
Then comes the environmental causes. Babies crying, a loud neighbor or neighborhood, an unfamiliar surrounding - such as a hotel room, the cottage, or a friends couch. Even a ticking clock can become annoying enough to interrupt a good night's sleep to an insomniac.
The causes are great and many. But one that is seldom explored is a rare condition that can be hell for a person, or at least their spouse and/or sleeping partner.
Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS, also known as Wittmaack-Ekbom's syndrome, is an irresistible and uncontrollable urge to twitch and move - sometimes violently - in order to stop uncomfortable or peculiar sensations. People who suffer this condition describe it as having the extremities feel itchy, and/or they feel a burning sensation which is temporarily relieved by sudden twitches and movement. Although it most commonly begins as middle age sets in (40 - 50 years of age) it has been documented in infants all the way up to young adults.
The condition of restless leg syndrome has been shown to be most common in people with an iron deficiency. Such a deficiency can account for 1/5th of certain clinically scrutinized RLS cases. There are other conditions that both exacerbate and co-relate with this problem, things like diabetes, thyroid disease, magnesium deficiency, poor vascular consistency, e.t.c... and as such, a proper diagnosis is required to rule out the many possible physiological causes.
If you suffer from this condition, you may gloss over it by making jokes, or maybe your partner has poked fun at how you "chase rabbits" in your sleep. Quite simply, it is no laughing matter, and not a small problem. Rare yes, small no. Firstly there are no known preventative measures. Secondly, once all other potential contributing causes are ruled out, RLS treatment is an expensive and long term proposal that - using drug therapy - has known, serious side effects (like nausea, dizziness, hallucinations). In fact, drug therapy treatment should be only considered as a last ditch effort, and only if the condition is becoming violent and potentially dangerous to you or your sleeping partner.
If you believe you have RLS, or perhaps your partner has let you know that you've kicked or punched out in your sleep, my best advice is to immediately see a doctor and schedule a polysomnogram - as well as a full medical/blood work up. However, to combat the problem immediately you may try an additional iron supplement, or do your best to get more iron in your diet through your nutritional intake. Additionally you may need extra magnesium, available in supplement form or by eating foods rich in these vitamins and minerals.
One other thing you can try is to stretch, either just before bed time, or at the onset of an attack. If an onset of RLS wakes you, simply stand up and stretch by touching your toes. Complete a cycle of 5 stretches, held for 20 seconds each time. This has been known to significantly reduce the severity of RLS in some patients.
There Is Hope
According to a source... "a non-drug musculoskeletal approach has been developed that appears to produce significant respite from symptoms of RLS in 80-90% of patients." So it is good to know someone, somewhere, is on the case.
In the meantime, don't panic, restless leg syndrome is not going to kill you. If you are showing any signs of RLS, be sure to act promptly and do not ignore it like one can ignore the occasional sleepless night. Here's some things you can do right away:
If these weapons don't work to combat your issue, it may be time to get a proper sleep study done (polysomnogram) wherein a doctor can assess the severity of your problem, and even potentially rule it out as nothing more than bad dreams.
In cases of non-RLS related insomnia, it is my hope that you can help yourself and avoid certain dependency issues by avoiding prescription medicines. However RLS drug therapy is an entirely different beast. There are far more serious side effects associated with RLS drugs. Just be aware, and be extra cautious.