Depression and RLS

What You Need to Know Depressive disorders are common in adults living with restless legs syndrome (RLS). In fact, the likelihood of ...

What You Need to Know

Depressive disorders are common in adults living with restless legs syndrome (RLS). In fact, the likelihood of developing depression with RLS is increased by 2-4 times when compared to other adults. While it is unclear exactly why this is, sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation are likely a contributing factor.

Indicators of depression include a low mood, diminished interests, feelings of worthlessness, weight gain or loss, fatigue or loss of energy, diminished concentration, insomnia or excessive sleepiness, mental/physical sluggishness or agitation, or thoughts of death. Many with RLS can feel totally alone in their struggle, especially during sleepless nights. If you are experiencing depression, you are not alone. There is help available.

The first step is to talk to your doctor about how you are feeling. (See our RLS Healthcare Provider Directory or Quality Care Center Network.) Fifty-eight percent of older adults think that "feeling blue" is a normal part of aging, but in fact it is not. These older adults often go untreated because they do not tell their healthcare providers about their symptoms, which can be triggered by chronic illnesses like RLS. It's important to assess the severity of the depression-related symptoms, and to consider whether poor sleep might be a significant factor. Treating the RLS before treating the depression can be beneficial, especially when depression-related symptoms are mild. However, patients with moderate to severe depression may need a different approach, which may include antidepressant medication.

It's important to note here that all antidepressants can worsen RLS symptoms. However, some RLS-safe alternatives include Desipramine (possibly), Nefazodone (may cause liver failure)*, Trazodone and Wellbutrin. Talk to your doctor about medication options to see what is best for you. Want to bring some RLS publications to your appointment? Email us and we will get you what you need.

In 2016, the RLS Foundation produced a webinar on RLS and depression featuring John Winkelman, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, a certified RLS Quality Care Center. Learn about the signs of depression, management strategies, and when to seek a professional opinion in this free webinar recording below.

While dealing with a chronic illness like RLS can sometimes seem fruitless, there are helpful and effective strategies for staying ahead of your depression. Talking about how you are feeling can be therapeutic and emotionally healing. RLS support groups are a safe environment that bring people together to share their experiences, coping strategies, and to build a community of care on which RLS patients and their families can depend. If there is not a support group in your area, all RLS Foundation volunteer support group leaders and remote contacts available via phone or email to provide support. Additionally, the Foundation's Discussion Board serves as a virtual support group, and is available 24/7 for those sleepless nights.

You have a treatable medical illness. There are resources available to you in every community including doctors, community agencies, clergy, and counseling centers. You are not alone.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm, call 911 immediately or visit your nearest emergency room.

*Note: The brand Serzone (nefazodone) has been discontinued but generic versions are still available. However, physicians must fully aware of side effects before prescribing.


The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) agency that is dedicated to improving the lives of men, women, and children who live with this often-devastating disease. Founded in 1992, the Foundation’s goals are to increase awareness, improve treatments and through research, find a cure for RLS. The Foundation serves healthcare providers, researchers, 5,000 members and an estimated seven million individuals in the United States who have RLS. The Foundation has funded more than $1.6 million in RLS research.

Become a Foundation member today for only $35/year to access over 40 publications on RLS, as well as webinar recordings and NightWalkers archives. If you are in a difficult financial situation, we also have scholarship memberships available upon request.

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