Restless Leg Syndrome Can Cause Sleep Problems In Children – SheKnows

We were tired and desperate. Our child could not (or was it would not?) sleep. We had tried absolutely everything under the sun to help them – and us – get a good night’s rest, to no avail.

Being the crunchy mom that I am, we started with a solid bedtime routine. A story, soft music, a gentle back rub and prayers – and then the lights go out. Our 5 year old got up in less than ten minutes, claiming he “couldn’t sleep”. We were frustrated, but we weren’t surrendering. I bought some organic lavender lotion, hoping it would be our magic trick. This was not the case.

I bought my kid a weighted blanket, soaked with melatonin, and even set up a nighttime exercise session right before bed. I had my two oldest children, including the one who couldn’t sleep, walk up and down the driveway to our front door for about five minutes. Getting out a burst of energy before closing time did nothing but made my kids hyper and sweaty.

The pediatrician was not much help. After all, it’s normal for some children to have trouble sleeping. I took it upon myself to take my child to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist who said my child’s adenoids should come out. Check. Well, it did nothing except make my child nervous about having surgery and give us a big medical bill. We proceeded, a year later, to the ablation of the tonsils of our child. That didn’t help either. We also, in the middle of these surgeries, had a sleep study done. Nothing alarming or even subtle emerged.

At this point, we were working with a pediatric sleep physician. Since the sleep study failed to identify the root cause of my child’s sleep issues, we performed baseline blood work. Again, nothing came. I grew more and more frustrated. My child was having trouble with his behavior during the day due to lack of sleep. We were also impatient and perplexed. How come our toddler could sleep through the night, but our kindergartner couldn’t – and never did?

The sleep specialist suggested, as did the pediatrician, that our child’s sleep problem may be behavioral. Have we tried a reward system, like a sticker board for completing a goal? One said we should give our child one ticket per night, and once the child used his ticket to get out of bed, that was it. No more tickets, no more getting out of bed, problem solved. The idea was so terrible that I almost laughed in the doctor’s face. But hey, I was so desperate, I gave it a whirl. You’re probably not shocked when I tell you that this suggestion didn’t work, like everything else we tried. I was already convinced that my child did not choose to get out of bed out of boredom, fear or meanness.

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Our child started complaining that his legs and arms felt like bugs were crawling in them. I found this both disgusting and revealing. Something was going on, but no one seemed to be able to help us figure it out.

Exasperated, I was talking on the phone one day with a friend of mine who is both a mother of seven children and a registered pediatric nurse. I told her everything we had tried to help our child sleep. I had no idea that my vent phone conversation would turn out to be the thing that would solve the mystery of my child not sleeping.

My friend asked me if I had my child’s ferritin level tested. I didn’t even know what ferritin was or how it could be checked. It turns out that ferritin is a protein that stores iron, and it’s checked with a quick blood test and then sent to a lab. I was cautiously optimistic that maybe this was our answer. I immediately called the sleep specialist and requested a lab prescription for ferritin. Fortunately, the doctor agreed.

A few weeks later, at our follow-up appointment, the sleep specialist told us that our child had low ferritin, which was causing symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). I was shocked. I told him that I believed RLS was the condition of an elderly or pregnant person – not something that would affect a child fresh out of infancy. The specialist told me that although RLS involves a person feeling discomfort and movement in the legs, RLS is a ‘neck down’ syndrome.

My child’s lower ferritin level and symptoms indicated RLS, and the doctor put my child on a prescribed ferritin supplement, to be taken with vitamin C for the best possible absorption. I am happy to report that it worked. It took a while for my child’s ferritin levels to reach an appropriate level, which is monitored by doctors, but when it did, my child was able to get a full night’s sleep for the first time — already. And in turn, so are we. What a relief for all of us!

I wonder why it took us years – and so many unnecessary tests and surgeries – to get our child properly diagnosed. I learned that in the United States, 1.5 million children suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome. I share this to say that RLS is not a rare syndrome. It has pretty clear symptoms and the blood test for low ferritin is incredibly simple and relatively inexpensive.

My child’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment was a game-changer not only for our child, but for our entire family. Sleep is so important for overall health, including one’s focus and attitude. I am so grateful to my friend for getting us back on track, especially after years of counting sheep to no avail.

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