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Periodic Leg Movements

Periodic leg movements are repetitive movements that occur about every 20 to 40 seconds while sleeping. These movements may be jerking, flailing and kicking motions, an upward flexing of the feet or brief twitches. The repetitive movement may last for a few minutes to several hours. People who experience these movements may not even be aware of them and their bed partner may be the one to alert them of it.

Although it varies for each person, people with periodic leg movements may also experience insomnia or daytime fatigue, caused by interrupted sleep.

Some may also have restless legs syndrome (RLS), a sensation in the legs that causes a strong, often irresistible urge to move them as you try to fall asleep or when you awaken at night. This sensation has been described as uncomfortable and, in some cases, painful. Other words used to describe these sensations include creeping, itching, pulling and tugging. Although rare, these sensations also can occur in the arms and other parts of the body.

Our Approach to Periodic Leg Movements

At UCSF, our sleep medicine specialists offer a comprehensive range of services and treatments for conditions such as periodic leg movements during sleep, insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea and snoring. We have a sleep testing laboratory specially designed to provide cutting-edge diagnostic care in a comfortable, hotel-like setting for patients' overnight evaluations. Accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, our sleep center sees more than 2,000 patients each year.

We need to treat periodic leg movements only if they lead to insomnia or daytime fatigue. In these cases, we try to determine whether an underlying medical condition is causing the problem, so we can treat that condition. Even when we find no clear cause, medications can reduce or eliminate symptoms.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • usnews-pulmonology

    Best in Northern California for pulmonology & lung surgery

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.