Multiple Combinations: RLS, Insomnia, and Depression

Being in COVID-19 lockdown 3.0, the need to remove ourselves mentally from our 4 walls became more pressing. When you struggle with a chronic illness such as restless legs syndrome, that need becomes even more pronounced.

When restless legs syndrome (RLS) is in a spiral, we seem to find ourselves asleep all day and awake all night. This can completely throw off our natural circadian rhythm – our internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle – and ultimately lead to chronic insomnia by desynchronising our internal rhythm.

RLS as a timely distraction from anxious thoughts

By suffering from insomnia whilst our RLS is at its worse, we are in an unenviable position. Nighttime is when anxiety and depression seem to increase exponentially.

With nothing to distract our thoughts from ruminating, we bring up past events and issues, trying to make sense of them. Luckily, we are totally consumed by our RLS symptoms, therefore distracted from other things.

More depressive thoughts during the nighttime

One reason I have heard suggested for the increase in depressive thoughts during the night is the lack of distractions. During the day, life tends to get in the way. Whereas nighttime evokes the use of blue and white light.

We know blue light keeps us awake; it has also been shown to increase the effects of depression. Even having a television on in a dark room can increase cortisol levels, therefore increasing depression.1

Engaging in meaningful activities

Minimising the symptoms of depression is easier said than done. Inactivity, due to tiredness caused by incessant bouts of RLS, can be an ever-decreasing circle.

Meaningful activities, such as getting out of bed and having a shower, could start to help clear the fogginess felt with mental health issues. Baking can be a massive help!

Taking small steps forward

At the very beginning, tackling even the smallest task can prove daunting. As time passes and confidence grows, larger jobs seem less stressful than the small ones ever did.

Once the pandemic is over, maybe join a gym. Exercise can help stretch muscles to ease RLS symptoms. Swimming is low impact, which can be great for joint problems.

Go at your own pace

There is no need to become an ultra-marathon runner to help alleviate RLS symptoms. Effective exercise can vary between sufferers. Make sure you stick to what works for you. Avoid exercises that can make your joints ache, as it might make your RLS worse. Yoga and cycling, combined with stretching, can help in addition to helping deal with depression symptoms.

Do you struggle with a combination of RLS and depressive thoughts? Do you find distracting activities to be helpful? Do you have any coping tips to share with our community? Tell us in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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