DIFFICULTY FALLING OR STAYING ASLEEP: NIGHTTIME MUSCLE-TWITCHING

Restless legs syndrome is different from another condition called nocturnal myoclonus, which means “nighttime muscle-twitching” and is the name given to the problem of frequent strong leg jerks. Sleep laboratory studies have found that some patients may have leg jerks three hundred to four hundred times a night, occurring every twenty to forty seconds. Both legs are usually involved. Unlike restless legs syndrome, myocolonus causes no unpleasant sensations in the leg. Because it occurs during sleep, episodes are seldom recalled. Myoclonus may arise from such medical problems as kidney disease, metabolic disorders, narcolepsy, drug withdrawal, or apnea. Withdrawal from medications, such as antidepressants or anticonvulsive drugs, can serve to worsen the problem. I should stress that myoclonus is not a seizure disorder like epilepsy. EEG tracings of people with myoclonus indicate that both their sleep and their waking patterns are normal (except for the nighttime arousals caused by twitching).Obviously, victims of myoclonus have trouble maintaining sleep. While they may not actually awaken during a twitching episode, these patients may perceive their sleep to be light, broken, and restless. They may also awaken feeling unrested and unrestored. Frequently, too, their bed partners complain of disturbed sleep, pointing to the bruises on their shins as evidence. Researchers estimate that as many as 10 to 15 percent of patients with a sleep disorder have nocturnal myoclonus; an estimated one out of three people over the age thought to suffer from the problem. *124\226\8*

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