RLS Tied to Earlier Death Risk

2 min read

Man in bed having trouble sleeping

In a study of 18,500 men, Harvard researchers found that men with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) had a 39 percent higher risk of an early death than did men without the condition.

“This study suggests that individuals with RLS are more likely to die early than other people,” said study author Dr. Xiang Gao, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This association was independent of other known risk factors.”

At the start of the study, none of the men had diabetes, arthritis or kidney failure. The average age at the start was 67. Almost 4% (690 men) of the study group was diagnosed with RLS. Men with RLS were more likely to take antidepressant drugs and have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or Parkinson’s disease. Not surprisingly, men with RLS had more frequent complaints of insomnia.


During the study follow-up, nearly 2,800 men died.

When the researchers compared those with RLS to those without, they found that men who had the condition were 39% more likely to die during the study period than men without the condition. When they controlled for factors such as body mass, lifestyle factors, chronic conditions and sleep duration, the mortality risk for men with RLS dropped to 30%.

Dr. Melissa Bernbaum, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, suspects the findings will be similar in women. “I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be,” she said.

“I was surprised by these findings,” Bernbaum added. “This is a pretty high increased risk.

“I think they did a good job of defining some of the reasons why this association exists, but what they don’t mention is who was treated for Restless Legs Syndrome and who wasn’t,” Bernbaum said. “If you could avoid the sleep disruption, would the mortality risk be the same?”