The Impact of PLMD on Sleep Quality and Daytime Functioning

Discover how Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) affects your quality of sleep and daytime functioning. Read more to enhance your rest!


If you struggle with twitching or jerking movements in your legs or arms while you sleep, you might have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). Most people experience twitches in their limbs every 20 seconds or so, often lasting minutes to hours every night. This can be a complex condition to deal with, and as you might have expected, it can actually impact your sleep quality and daytime functioning.

In this article, we’ll take the time to explore four of the most common impacts of PLMD on sleep quality and daytime functioning, including how PLMD can disturb your sleep, make you sleepier, and even impact your cognitive abilities. You’ll have a greater understanding of how PLMD affects your rest and energy levels, ensuring you can take the proper steps to support your overall health.

Frequent Sleep Disruptions

For those with PLMD, sleep may be more fragmented. The nocturnal, often involuntary movement of your limbs can cause you to wake up, leading to poor quality sleep and even ending your usual sleep cycle too early. A study on children with PLMD demonstrated that these movements can disrupt their sleep and duration, leading to poorer rest over time (Source: Pediatric Pulmonology).

While a disturbance here and there while you sleep overnight won’t hurt you, consistent fragmented sleep can actually harm your overall health. Researchers studying Alzheimer’s Disease discovered that PLMD causes an alteration of your brain chemicals that can lead to more visible biomarkers for Alzheimer’s. In other words, the more you struggle with disrupted sleep and the longer this challenge persists, the more likely you are to potentially be at risk for neurodegenerative disorders.

Frequent sleep disruptions are a common side effect of PLMD, but several other effects must be explored, including excessive daytime sleepiness.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

Aside from fragmented sleep, people with PLMD may also experience more daytime sleepiness. This is expected, especially given the fact that many who have PLMD experience disrupted sleep, which makes them feel less rested when they wake up in the morning. A study done on children with this disorder showed that they struggled with increased sleepiness but not as much as those who have restless sleep disorder. Still, even despite the fact that PLMD is not the most impactful on excessive daytime sleepiness, this still shows how much PLMD can impact energy levels (Source: Sleep).

However, it’s not just children with PLMD who also experience this daytime sleepiness. A study on adult patients also proved that many of those who were diagnosed with this sleep disorder found that they had “non-restorative sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, and work performances” (Source: PubMed). Excessive daytime sleepiness is a significant issue, not just for people’s comfort as they go about their day-to-day lives but also for those who have to operate a car or other machinery.

In fact, those who have excessive daytime sleepiness should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery, as their sleepiness could make their response time even less. If you feel groggy after a bad night’s rest, imagine what you might feel like after multiple nights of poor rest due to PLMD! That’s why taking extra precautions is necessary, especially since studies also show that PLMD can impair your cognition.

Impaired Cognitive Function

Much like the studies have shown with increased daytime sleepiness, those with PLMD also struggle with impaired cognitive function. This goes beyond the previous discussion of being weary of using machinery or cars, as this can actually extend into the long term. People who have frequent nocturnal sleep movements due to PLMD can actually experience more cognitive decline over time. The most impacted group of all may surprise you: older men.

Another study of the same nature focused on older men without dementia and found that those who had more instances of PLMD had a more significant decline in cognition over time as compared to others, specifically in their executive function (Source: PubMed). There’s a great explanation as to why this happens. Because sleep is what the brain needs to not only consolidate memories but also repair the body’s cells, lack of sleep due to the shortening of the sleep cycle can lead to poorer cognition over time.

Without sleep, your body can’t repair the cells, including your own brain cells, and it cannot continue to retain and code memories. That’s why those with PLMD should be mindful of how they can encourage more sleep—to support their cognition and improve their likelihood of enjoying a more stable, content emotional state.

Negative Moods and Poor Emotional Well-Being

Not only does PLMD impact you by causing fragmented sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, and even impairing your cognition, but it also can contribute to poor moods and, in the long term, poor emotional well-being. A study done on 48 different adult participants showed that those who had periodic limb movements while they slept or were even diagnosed with the disorder not only struggled with the effects mentioned above but also depression and emotional distress.

This is even more true for children, who show more pronounced disturbances to their mood and even headaches upon waking up in the morning (Source: Encyclopedia of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm). Over time, you can imagine how waking up after a poor night’s rest would affect your mood. Even just one night for many people will lead to a day full of poor moods, headaches, or feeling under the weather!

If you have PLMD and struggle with anxiety, irritability, or depression, you’re not alone, and it’s likely due to your sleep. That’s why it is so vital that you take steps to support your overall sleep health.

Mitigate PLMD and Ensure Quality Rest Every Night

PLMD can be challenging to handle, especially given how it impacts you and your health, but with proper steps, you can support better rest and encourage disturbance-free nights. By consulting with a medical professional, you may be able to find support or treatment options to help you alleviate some of these problematic side effects. How will you protect your sleep health and mitigate PLMD?



Written by

Marie Soukup

Marie Soukup is a seasoned copywriter, editor, and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with a certificate from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN). With years of experience working with brands across diverse industries, Marie is passionate about holistic health and crafting compelling content.

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