Sleep Disorders – New Research Findings on Restless Leg Syndrome Medicine Trials

Writing about sleep medicines has not been a big part of my focus on how to improve sleep issues.  But these recent findings from the American Association of Neurology offer possible hope to those plagued with a sleep disorder that is neurological in origin, and deserve mention.  All research should be viewed with caution as an initial attempt to fit a small piece of data into a larger body of findings.  Only when it has been replicated by other research, or studied on a longer term basis, can its place in the body of science be understood.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is not only a sleep disorder, but also a daytime problem which worsens at night, and, more importantly, interferes with the architecture of sleep by robbing the sufferer of the deeper stages of sleep.  This means that the person with RLS rarely gets a good night’s sleep and experiences all of the daytime maladies of lacking good restorative sleep. 

The main symptoms of RLS are creepy, crawly, tingling , burning or numbing sensations in the legs which underlie an urge to move the legs or to get up and walk to relieve the symptoms.  Walking or other activity does relieve the problem temporarily, but sensations return when the person is at rest.  When symptoms get worse at night, they interfere with the deeper stages of sleep, often awakening the person or their bed partner with kicking movements.  Diagnosis of this disorder is best made by a neurologist or through an overnight sleep study, where leg movements are actually recorded graphically, like an EEG or EKG.

Dr. Diego Garcia-Borreguerro, Director of the Sleep Research Institute in Madrid, Spain reported in April, 2009 on a study his clinic conducted, jointly funded by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. In his study, the medicine Pregabalin (aka Lyrica) was prescribed on a short term basis (12 weeks) to patients with RLS.  Findings were significant for 66 % of the study participants, for whom Pregabalin relieved all of their RLS symptoms while  those with remaining symptoms reported 66% improvement.

This particular medicine had already received FDA approval for and is currently being used to treat epilepsy, fibromyalgia, nerve pain and generalized anxiety.  Other medicines approved for treatment of RLS have shown great promise for short-term relief of symptoms, but often include the rebound effect of having symptoms return in even stronger form over the long term.  They all have in common that they treat through dopamine pathways, which Pregabalin does not, and, for the most part, do not improve the deeper stages of sleep. 

Perhaps the most optimistic aspect of this study is the finding of the restoration of Stages 3 and 4 sleep over the course of this short term study.  If this finding holds true for longer term use in other studies, it will be a remarkable aid to poor sleep worth examining.

Marcia Lindsey, Psy.D. is a sleep expert/coach/psychologist who trains individuals and groups by phone to change the mental and physical roadblocks getting in the way of great sleep. Get her free TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO FALL ASLEEP TONIGHT at

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