Our sleep cycles are regulated by a complex mechanism in our bodies. Hormones and brain chemicals tell us, "It's time to sleep" or "It's time to get up."
This is commonly based on a 24 hour clock. It's called the circadian rhythm. After dusk sometime, based on darkness, hormones and chemicals, our brain gets signals to go to sleep and we get sleep.
But, some people have problems with that 24 hour clock. Some people have a "short" clock. They like to go to sleep at 7 or 8 PM and get up at 4 in the morning.
Others have a "long" clock - they don't get the signal until later in the evening - could be midnight or 2, 3 or 4 AM before they are tired.
These are completely separate from RLS. A doctor can assess you to see if either of these apply. There are other circadian disorders, too.
But, RLS also has a circadian issue. Dopamine is one of the chemicals that is supposed to tell us it's time to sleep. But, RLS includes a disregulation of dopamine. So, we're supposed to get a release of this chemical in the early evening and we do not. Our body doesn't do it. Somewhere between 2-5 AM, our body all the sudden realizes that we have NO dopamine. It freaks out and it floods our bodies with dopamine. We sleep. But, we now have an excess of dopamine, so our body shuts it off and says, No More of That Stuff! When night comes, it's still in shut-off mode, even though we need it. It thinks we have too much. It's like a valve that got stuck on your gas tank and you think you have a full tank, but you're really on empty.
There is a LOT of information like this in the sticky posts in each of the sections. I highly recommend reading the New to RLS sticky posts, particularly the one on managing RLS.
Ann - Take what you need, leave the restManaging Your RLS
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