How Restless Leg Syndrome Affects Your Brain

Mental Health & Sleep Center, Restless Leg Syndrome
on October 8, 2013

For restless leg syndrome (RLS) sufferers, a good night’s sleep is at a premium—and no wonder. Who wouldn’t find snoozing impossible when you’re constantly fighting off the urge to wriggle around? Even more frustrating, though, is that successfully treating RLS doesn’t improve sleep in many sufferers.

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Now, Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered a clue as to why. In a study comparing MRI brain scans, the researchers found abnormally elevated levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in a group of RLS patients compared with non-RLS patients. The higher the level of glutamate, which is involved in arousal, the worse the patient’s sleep. Glutamate activity in the thalamus, the part of the brain that regulates sleep and alertness, was also determined to be directly linked to the amount of sleep.

The researchers believe this study may lead to improved treatments that address sleep issues in addition to RLS symptoms. Read more about the study here.