Background: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common and highly burdensome sleep disorder. While relaxation therapies, including yoga, are often recommended for RLS management, rigorous supporting research is sparse. The goal of this preliminary study was to assess the effects of yoga on RLS symptoms and related outcomes in women with RLS.
Methods: Participants were 13 nonsmoking women with moderate to severe RLS, who did not have diabetes, sleep apnea, or other serious concomitant chronic conditions, and who were not pregnant. The intervention was a gentle, 8-week Iyengar yoga program. Core outcomes assessed pre- and post-treatment were RLS symptoms and symptom severity (International RLS Scale [IRLS] and RLS ordinal scale), sleep quality (Medical Outcomes Study Sleep Scale), mood (Profile of Mood States), and perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale). Participants also completed yoga logs and a brief exit questionnaire regarding their experience with the study.
Results: Ten (10) women, aged 32-66 years, completed the study. Participants attended an average 13.4±0.5 (of 16 possible) classes, and completed a mean of 4.1±0.3 (of 5 possible) homework sessions/week. At follow-up, participants demonstrated striking reductions in RLS symptoms and symptom severity, with symptoms decreasing to minimal/mild in all but 1 woman and no participant scoring in the severe range by week 8. Effect sizes (Cohen's d) were large: 1.6 for IRLS total, and 2.2 for RLS ordinal scale. IRLS scores declined significantly with increasing minutes of homework practice per session (r=0.70, p=0.025) and total homework minutes (r=0.64, p<0.05), suggesting a possible dose-response relation. Participants also showed significant improvements in sleep, perceived stress, and mood (all p's≤0.02), with effect sizes ranging from 1.0 to 1.6.
Conclusions: These preliminary findings suggest that yoga may be effective in attenuating RLS symptoms and symptom severity, reducing perceived stress, and improving sleep and mood in women with RLS.