A fellow sufferer said that she had regularly read that people with restless legs also suffer from sleep apnea. Or actually the other way around: people with sleep apnea often also have RLS complaints.
The fellow sufferer herself, apart from restless legs, also had to deal with sleep apnea. She read the messages on a peer support forum for people with sleep apnea.
Sleeping gets really complicated when you have more than one sleep disorder. In my blog ‘Bad sleeping’ I wrote all about different sleep disorders.
I don’t think there is a causal relationship between restless legs and sleep apnea. It seems plausible to me that they can reinforce each other in a negative way.
What is sleep apnea
The word apnea consists of the parts a and pnea. A stands for none or not, pnea for air. In short: you can’t breathe. Sleep apnea is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. All treatments are a form of symptom control.
More men than women are affected by the condition. A common symptom is snoring. Sleep apnea is most common in people between the ages of 45 and 65. About 2% of women and 4% of men have this sleep disorder.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, your trachea is closed by your tongue, uvula or soft tissue in the back of the throat. The occlusion creates a pause in breath that can vary in length from 10 seconds to more than a minute. This happens more than five times an hour.
One of the consequences of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is that you develop a chronic sleep deprivation because you do not get into deep sleep. Another consequence is that your organs receive structurally too little oxygen during sleep.
In the long run, these things are very detrimental to your overall health.
A while ago I immersed myself in having a sleep study done. I wrote a blog about this under the title ‘Sleep study when you have restless legs’.
I learned while writing that there are two types of sleep research: a polygraph and a polysomnography (PSG). The polysomnography is the most extensive variant. This sleep study checks whether there are any sleep disturbances. It gives you a better insight into your sleeping pattern.
For sleep apnea, a polygraph is sufficient. This is the simpler version. In this sleep study it is determined whether there are moments of shallower breathing or breathing stops.
A friend of mine recently had a sleep study as well. He got a polysomnography. The sleep study just took place at his home. Everything he needed for it was delivered and installed that same day.
As a result of this sleep measurement, he was (unfortunately and unexpectedly) diagnosed with PLMD. About 80% of people with RLS also have PLMD. However, this friend does not have RLS and I do not have PLMD.
Sleep apnea and other conditions
Many people with sleep apnea deal with other conditions. If you do not sleep well enough night after night, this has consequences.
The relationship between the conditions can also be the other way around, so that another condition gives a greater chance of apnea. It is likely that there is an interplay. One condition aggravates the other once one of the conditions is present.
Being overweight is an example of this. The vast majority of people with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome are (much) overweight. Losing weight would significantly reduce the symptoms. In practice, however, this proves difficult to achieve, especially for this group, because the digestion is disturbed by poor sleep. Fatigue also makes you inclined to eat more.
An example of a possible consequence of sleep apnea is the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This is related to a lack of oxygen in blood and blood vessels or high blood pressure.
Other examples of conditions associated with apnea include diabetes, depression, decreased libido, memory and concentration problems, eye and ear problems, rheumatism, kidney damage and overactive bladder in women.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, sleep apnea syndrome also seems to regularly go together with restless legs.
Restless legs and sleep apnea
The combination of multiple sleep disorders makes sleeping very problematic. In the case of restless legs and sleep apnea, the many breathing stops cause a lot of wakefulness. As a result, the RLS is noticed (even) more often and more per night. The restless legs also make it a lot more difficult to fall asleep again. A vicious circle.
A third sleep disorder, insomnia (insomnia), is often associated with sleep apnea. You can imagine something if you read the above.
Anyone who has to deal with this must at some point become completely exhausted. This situation is unbearable and almost impossible. You may have an enormous resilience not to suffer from severe stress and depression in such circumstances. You also may become unfit for work.
Treatment is possible with the sleep apnea syndrome. You can think of the use of a sleeping mask (CPAP) or a jaw clamp (MRA). Jaw surgery is an option for some. Lifestyle adjustments can also ease symptoms. However, the ultimate cure has not yet been found.
There is medication for restless legs. There are also different therapies and aids that help one and not the other at all. The same goes for taking supplements related to a possible vitamin deficiency (such as iron, magnesium and vitamin B12). You can also think of relaxation exercises and yoga. No cure has yet been found for this condition.