Back to School with RLS

How to Manage Your Child's RLS in the Coming School Year Restless legs syndrome (RLS) does not only affect adults. In the United S...

How to Manage Your Child's RLS in the Coming School Year

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) does not only affect adults. In the United States alone, RLS is believed to afflict an estimated 1.5 million children and adolescents.

Although most research has focused on adults, RLS symptoms often begin during childhood or adolescence. In fact, about 35 percent of patients report RLS onset prior to age 20, and one in ten report that the syndrome appeared during the first decade of life. Additionally, research has shown that RLS has a genetic component, which causes RLS to oftentimes run in families.

Like adults, children with RLS tend to seek relief from their discomfort by moving their legs — often by fidgeting, stretching, walking, running, rocking or changing position in bed. Parents or healthcare providers often mistakenly label the child’s discomfort as "growing pains." Unlike most adults with RLS, children with RLS often complain of sensations more during the day than at night. However, RLS still causes the quality and quantity of a child's sleep cycle to diminish. This sleep deprivation can result in moodiness, irritability, inattentiveness, fatigue or hyperactivity.

In the classroom setting, attempts to relieve the uncomfortable feelings of RLS may be interpreted as inattentiveness, hyperactivity or disruptive behavior. RLS, however, is a real medical condition that calls for proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Here are some tips to ensure that your child has the resources he or she needs to manage their RLS, especially at school.

Young Children and Adolescents

1. Have an open dialogue among family members about your child's RLS

It is essential for your child to feel supported at home, especially when they are struggling with a disease that they may not understand. Educating your family and your child about RLS will help create a comforting and safe environment for them to discuss their symptoms. The Foundation has a number of resources to educate both parents and children about RLS.

Our newest children's publication, The Adventures of Patty Pillow, is a great tool for your child to learn how to monitor their symptoms, triggers and other patterns. There is a spread in this booklet that allows for your child to keep a "kid-friendly" journal of his or her sleeping patterns and to track symptoms.

2. Talk to your child's teacher

Make an appointment to speak with your child's teacher(s), school nurse and/or coach(es) about your child's RLS. By discussing this important aspect of your child's health, these individuals can help create a plan so he or she can stretch/stand during class when they need to. Applying ice or heating pads may also help your child during class while they are sitting at their desk. You can also give these educators Foundation handouts so that they can learn about this often misunderstood disease - they may have another student with RLS in the future!

3. Establish a routine

A solid bedtime routine will help your child fall asleep faster and for longer. Here are some good rules of thumb:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Having a regular routine will make it easier for your child's body to shut off for sleep at night.
  • Avoid large meals or snacks right before bed. Caffeine in soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate (chocolate milk, candy and ice cream) before bed will also make it difficult for your child to fall asleep. Note: Teach your child how to read labels for RLS triggers, like caffeine.
  • No electronics before bed. Blue light from a computer, tablet or phone screen can make your child's body think it's time to wake up. Instead, encourage he or she to take a bath, read a book or do some other quiet activity to get their body ready for rest.
  • Play! Getting outside in the sunshine and exercising every day will help your child have a healthy sleep-wake cycle.


Teens typically require about 9 hours of sleep per night. Staying up late doing homework can contribute to poor sleep quality and restlessness, and can have negative effects on waking life. Encouraging your teen to establish a routine will help them get a restorative night's sleep.

Additionally, see if your teen can schedule their physical education class (or something similar) around mid-day so that they can get a break from sitting at their desk. Alcohol and nicotine can also exacerbate RLS symptoms, so this is also important to discuss with your teen. Read our Teen Guide for more strategies on how your teen can cope with their RLS symptoms.

Want more information on RLS and your child? Email us and we will get you what you need!

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