Is ADHD related to RLS?

In my blog about children I wrote that restless legs are sometimes confused with ADHD. In earlier times, these children were classified under the term ‘spirited’.

I recently read that adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as a child often continued to suffer from restless legs later in life. Could there be a connection between this condition and restless legs syndrome?

In this blog I will elaborate on this topic. First I cover the ins and outs of ADHD. Then I make the link with restless legs.

What is ADHD

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This means a condition in which a lack of attention and hyperactivity plays an important role. The brain of someone with ADHD responds more quickly to stimuli and impulses.

Today, many children are diagnosed with ADHD (or ADD). The question is whether children are busier in this era than in other times. Is there really something wrong with them?

You can distinguish at least three forms. In the first, a person is especially quick and often distracted. In the second form, a person is mainly spirited and behaves impulsively. The third is a combination of the first two. The third variant is the most common.

ADHD also often runs in families. However, environmental factors also seem to play an important role.

Rest, cleanliness and regularity are important to everyone. They are especially important for people with ADHD, because they help to create more structure in the day in all the mental chaos and unrest.

There are medications to suppress the symptoms of ADHD. A well-known example of this is Ritalin. However, this drug does not make the condition go away.


A few years ago, a colleague in her 50s confided in me that she had been diagnosed with ADHD. For years she wondered what it was that had always made her so restless and unfocused from her childhood.

It was a relief for her to finally know where this came from and that there were more people like her.

I’ve known this colleague for a while. In the years I worked with her, it was striking that sometimes she simply forgot that she had to come to work. She was also often late. Or she went to the wrong location.

This was irritating for me and for other colleagues. We valued her very much as a person and colleague. However, we couldn’t rely on her to keep her promises. In retrospect, she probably wanted to do it right, but her brain wasn’t cooperating.

ADHD in adults

Many adults who already had ADHD as a child continue to have complaints as adults. Between 1 and 2.5% of the Dutch population has to deal with ADHD (or ADD). Only in the last 20 years has ADHD in adults been a recognized diagnosis.

Adults with ADHD often suffer less from hyperactivity than children. In adults, the disorder is more likely to be expressed in difficulty concentrating and in keeping an overview.

If there is no hyperactive behavior or hyperactivity, it might be better to call the condition in that person ADD. This stands for Attention Deficit Disorder.

ADHD manifests itself differently in women than in men. Women are more communicative. As a result, in many women this condition is diagnosed very late or not at all.

Both adults and children benefit from structuring their day. It is also important to do things that help you relax and deal with stress.

Restless legs

At the beginning of this blog I wrote that children who have symptoms of restless legs are sometimes wrongly diagnosed with ADHD. It is of course also possible that these children have both ADHD and RLS.

This combination appears to be more common in adults as well. There could be a link between the two conditions. The complaints could also arise from the medication that is taken for ADHD.

I read in a study that the more severe a person’s ADHD, the greater the chance of sleeping problems. You have to think of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, difficulty falling asleep and yes, restless legs.

By the way, it sounds more plausible to me that these ‘spirited’ children are more likely to have PLMD (Periodic Limb Movement Disorder) than RLS if they are misdiagnosed. RLS and PLMD are regularly lumped together. However, they are really two different conditions.

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