Pediatric Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) describes a child’s or adolescent’s urge to move their legs, typically in the evenings and at bedtime.

What is Pediatric Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?

RLS is a neurological disorder (impacting the brain, spine and connecting nerves) that affects children’s ability to sit still or lie down without movement. It causes the uncontrollable need to move their legs, typically in response to pain or discomfort. Your child may describe the feeling as aching, creepy-crawly, itching or tingling.

RLS is worse at night and bedtime, but it can also occur during long periods of stillness, such as sitting motionless during school or in a car. The pain and discomfort can come and go and may not happen every night. It can be eased or relieved by stretching or shaking the legs, walking around or tossing in the bed.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?

It may take longer for a child to fall asleep due to the discomfort and need to move. They may also have difficulty staying asleep, which can not only cause extreme daytime tiredness but also lead to sleep disorders.

  • Behavioral health issues, including anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, irritability, impulsiveness and poor concentration
  • Erratic leg movements (kicking or shaking)
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Pain, tingling or discomfort in legs
  • Periodic leg movements (involuntarily leg twitches during sleep)
  • Resisting bedtime
  • Tossing and turning in bed

What are the causes of Pediatric Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?

The exact cause of RLS is unknown. Experts have suggested this neurological disorder may be caused by an imbalance of dopamine, the chemical that helps control muscle movements.

Risk factors

Some factors can increase the chances of being diagnosed with RLS and can make the RLS symptoms worse, including:

  • Caffeine
  • Chronic illnesses (cancer, diabetes and kidney disease/failure)
  • Genetics/inherited (passed down through generations)
  • Iron deficiency (with or without anemia)
  • Medications (antidepressants like sertraline/Zoloft®, antihistamines like diphenhydramine/Benadryl®, anti-nausea like metoclopramide/Reglan® and antipsychotics like haloperidol/Haldol)
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves in the hands and feet)
  • Spinal cord conditions (lesions or spinal blocks)

Pediatric Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Doctors and Providers