The symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS) worsen while patients are sitting or lying and also worsen at night. The current study was designed to determine if the periodic limb movements (PLMs) and sensory symptoms of RLS are modulated by an independent circadian factor. We recorded sleeping and waking PLMs and waking sensory symptoms in eight volunteers with RLS for 3 successive nights and days, starting with a polysomnographic recording of 2 nights, followed by a third night of sleep deprivation and the day after sleep deprivation. This study showed that both the PLMs and sensory symptoms were worst at night with a maximum for both between midnight and 1:00 AM and a minimum between 9:00 and 11:00 AM. Sleep and drowsiness had a tendency to worsen PLMs and sensory symptoms after the night of sleep deprivation. Circadian temperature curves were normal in all four patients with adequate data collection. The highest PLM counts occurred on the falling phase of the circadian temperature curve whereas the lowest PLM counts occurred on the rising phase of the curve. We conclude that the PLM and sensory symptoms in RLS are influenced by a circadian rhythm, and that the "worsening at night" criterion of the RLS Definition Criteria is, at least in part, distinct from the "worsening while lying or sitting" criterion.