Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: Know Symptoms And Causes Of This Sleep Disorder

Periodic limb movement disorder can cause serious problems to your daily routine and behavior, know its symptoms and causes to be aware. 

Puru Bansal
Written by: Puru BansalPublished at: Jan 29, 2022Updated at: Jan 29, 2022
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: Know Symptoms And Causes Of This Sleep Disorder

Most of us do not have any control over our body when we sleep. However many functions keep on working in constant manner and hence there are chances of your body organs reacting to those functions. You must have noticed getting sudden jerk or twitching in your legs, this can be symptoms of periodic limb movement disorder. This leg disorder does not necessarily result in serious health issues but it creates an obstacle in your routine lifestyle. This limb disorder can get more problematic if not treated at time. Therefore today we will discuss about periodic limb disorder in detail.

What is Periodic Limb Movement Disorder?

We spoke to General Physician Dr. Sumeet Nigam, from Sahara Hospital, Lucknow to know about periodic limb movement disorder. He said that this sleep disorder is a time specific disorder, it does happen for a long time continuously; hence it is hard to determine this problem. This limb movement disorder just lasts for around 15-20 seconds at max in the night. Periodic limb movement disorder occurs in the night when a person is sleeping and causes jerky movement, flexing or twitching effect on your legs and arms. 


This disorder can also occur because of underlying health conditions or because of restless legs syndrome. Periodic limb movement disorder is a sleep disorder and not actually a nerve disorder. Most of the studies suggest that periodic limb disorder is related to low levels of iron levels or because of damage to certain nerves that results to this disorder.  

Causes of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Apart from what studies suggest, there are other conditions that can result to this condition. Exact cause of PLMD is not known but since it emerges from central nervous system, it could be linked to nerve response and nerve dysfunctions as well. Here are some conditions that can contribute towards PLMD disorder-

  1. Caffeine intake 
  2. Medications such as antidepressants, anti-nausea drugs, etc
  3. Other sleep disorder such as restless legs syndrome or narcolepsy 
  4. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Williams’s syndrome
  5. Spinal cord injury
  6. Iron deficiency anemia
  7. Metabolic disorder such as diabetes or kidney diseases

This disorder is more common towards older adults but it can happen to young people as well. Most cases of people those are older than age of 65 years has this disorder. Also they did not know it until they went through a thorough diagnosis. 

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Symptoms of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

The important thing to know in this disorder is that there are no separate symptoms. Symptoms just occur for 20 seconds prior to the movement and can happen in every 30 minutes approximately. The limb movement usually occurs during time of non-rapid eye movement. The symptoms of periodic limb movement disorder are-


  • Repetitive leg movement in one or both legs, it also happens in the arms in a similar way which may involve flexing a toe or bending of ankles or knees. You may also feel twitching of hips and related organs.
  • Most people in this disorder have restless and breaking sleep patterns
  • You may feel uncomfortable while sleeping and that could result in waking up multiple times during night. 
  • Symptoms also include having day time drowsiness and sleepiness 
  • There is irritated behavior and other behavior problems which occur constantly every day
  • Decline in performance in regular schedules and at work due to lack of sleep and poor sleeping patterns
  • You may also develop symptoms of restless legs syndrome
  • Burning or tingling effect in legs when you try to sleep

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Periodic Limb Movement Disorder VS Restless Legs Syndrome

According to Dr. Sumeet, both are different conditions and have different symptoms as well. The major difference is that PLMD is a limb disorder that means all the limbs including hands, hips, legs, feet, etc are affected. In Restless legs syndrome, only legs are affected and that is less problematic. 


The other differentiating factor is that periodic limb movement disorder occurs for just 15-20 seconds whereas RLS lasts more a few minutes or more. PLMD occurs because of dysfunction or problems with central nervous system, RLS can be affected because of diet, other diseases and nerve disorders as well. Also RLS is more common in people than PLMD because that occurs to people of almost all ages.

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