Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually because of an uncomfortable sensation.”1 Typically, RLS is more uncomfortable than it is painful. Those with RLS often describe the sensations in their legs as tingling, aching, itching, a “deep bone itch,” or like bugs crawling on their skin. RLS is not life-threatening, but it can cause repeated discomfort in your day-to-day, impeding your sleep. Luckily, simple lifestyle changes and restless leg syndrome home remedies can relieve, or even eliminate, symptoms of this disorder.
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- What is RLS?
- Causes & Symptoms
- RLS Home Remedies & Non-Medication Treatments
- Tips to Relieve Sudden Symptoms Fast
- Overview of the Next Steps
What is RLS?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, RLS affects nearly 1 in 10 Americans, or 10% of the population. The treatment of the condition depends on what is causing it. The good news? Doctors have found once you know the cause, treatment usually alleviates all the symptoms.
When it comes to sleep, RLS makes it difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep. If RLS is severe enough, it can make it difficult for you to sit still. The inability to sit still impacts your day-to-day work life and other not-so-common activities, such as plane travel or taking a road trip. Considering these facts, it’s fair to say untreated RLS can cause problems in your waking and sleeping hours.
Causes & Symptoms
RLS can be caused by a variety of factors, including a deficiency in iron, magnesium, folate, or Vitamin D; a chronic illness such as kidney disease, diabetes, or a spinal cord condition; and a dopamine imbalance. Certain medications such as over-the-counter sleeping pills, cold medicines, anti-nausea medicines, calcium-channel blockers, and antidepressants can cause symptoms of RLS, as well. Lastly, pregnancy and family genetics can cause RLS to develop. Commonly, 40% of pregnant women and 60% of individuals with a family member affected by RLS end up developing the condition.
Symptoms of the disorder include discomfort in the legs and a strong urge to move them; these usually worsen at night and improve only when you get up and walk around. Rest can trigger these symptoms, so it’s more common to feel these uncomfortable sensations in your legs when you’re sitting down, relaxing on the couch, or laying in bed trying to fall asleep. Because rest usually makes these sensations worse, sleep can seem impossible to accomplish when you’re dealing with restless legs. In severe cases, those with RLS will even twitch and kick their legs while they’re sleeping.
RLS is much more common in women, with approximately 50% more cases of RLS in women than in men. After the age of 50, symptoms usually worsen. Severe symptoms can cause a significant disruption in your quality of sleep, which over time leads to daytime fatigue and even mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.2
If you are experiencing RLS, make an appointment to visit your doctor. Bring with you a sleep journal where you documented the frequency and severity of your RLS symptoms. Having a history of your experiences written down should be able to help the doctor pinpoint what’s going on and recommend possible treatment techniques.
Restless Legs Syndrome Home Remedies & Non-Medication Treatment
Lifestyle changes and simple home remedies such as practicing good sleep hygiene are normally the keys to kicking this condition.
- Stress is a principal contributor to the symptoms of RLS. To help ease or eliminate symptoms, learn how to manage stress with relaxation techniques, yoga, and deep breathing.
- Don’t over exercise. Exercise is one of the best things for relieving restless legs syndrome. Later on, we’ll discuss the best exercises to practice to relieve these symptoms. However, it’s important to note beforehand exercise only works in moderation. If you over-do it, it can cause the aching and uncomfortable sensations in your leg muscles to worsen.
- Experiment with caffeine. Because the cause of restless legs syndrome may vary from individual to individual, the effects of caffeine on the symptoms of RLS will differ from individual to individual. To determine whether or not caffeine negatively impacts your symptoms, monitor your quality of sleep on days you do have caffeine, and on days you don’t; make sure to be keeping track of when you’re drinking caffeine, as well. By keeping track of your caffeine consumption and quality of sleep in a sleep journal, it’ll give you an idea of how caffeine impacts your rest on a larger scale.
As we mentioned in the previous section, you can use exercise to ease and eliminate symptoms of RLS when it’s done strategically and in moderation. Vigorous activity can worsen symptoms, so doctors and sleep scientists usually recommend a light, 30-minute workout in the morning or early afternoon. It’s important to note, working out too late in the day can also inhibit sleep.
Interestingly, aerobic exercise in the morning, such as an early-morning run, can help relieve symptoms of RLS come night-time. In addition to cardio, doctors recommend calf stretches, front thigh stretches, and hip stretches to alleviate muscle tension. These stretches can be done in the mornings before you start your day. They’re also low-impact enough to be done before bed to relax and de-stress before dozing off to sleep.
Get Checked for Mineral and Vitamin Deficiencies
Because RLS can be caused by a deficit of a variation of minerals and vitamins, the solution could be as simple as adding a Vitamin D capsule to your daily routine. Talk to your doctor about your diet to determine if you should be incorporating any vitamin or mineral supplements into your day-to-day.
Eliminate RLS-Inducing Medications
As we discussed, RLS symptoms can be caused by a range of medications, including cold medicine, anti-nausea medications, and antidepressants. Talk to your doctor about which medications you’re currently taking to determine if it could be the root of your RLS. Do not stop taking any prescription medications unless advised by your doctor.
Acupuncture, reflexology, and massage therapy are a great way to relax the muscles in your legs and ease the uncomfortable sensations you experience in association with RLS. Alternatively, stimulus therapy has been effective in treating this disorder, as well. Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulus, or TENS, treatment sends low-voltage electrical currents to your muscles, relieving aches and tension. These stimulus machines can be bought online and are relatively inexpensive. Furthermore, your doctor may prescribe you a Relaxis Vibrating pad; this pad goes below your legs while you sleep and delivers a steady stream of stimulus to your calf and thigh muscles throughout the night, preventing the urge to move your legs from developing.3
Tips to Relieve Sudden Symptoms Fast
When you’re hit with sudden symptoms, it can seem impossible to get a good night’s rest. Before getting anxious at the thought of a restless night, try practicing some of these quick symptom-relieving techniques:
- Get up and walk around: If you feel uncomfortable sensations in your legs associated with RLS, allow yourself to get up and walk around once or twice. After that, do your best to find other techniques to distract yourself from the symptoms.
- Distract yourself with a game or book: Take your mind off of your discomfort and allow yourself to focus on something else, such as a book or magazine. We recommend non-electronic distractions, as electronic distracts may also make it harder to fall asleep. Doing this will occupy your mind and tire you out so you can drift off to sleep.
- Apply hot and cool packs to your legs: For instant relief, apply an ice pack or a hot pack to your legs. Doing this should relieve discomfort and tension in your muscles. Creams such as Bengay® and BioFreeze™ deliver a warm and cooling sensation and last for hours; applying a cream like so before bed will provide all-night relief to your muscles.
- Wear compression socks: Pressure can help relieve the uncomfortable sensations in your legs. Just make sure the compression socks you wear aren’t cutting your circulation off, as that can lead to a whole other set of problems.
- Take a hot bath: Relax your calf and thigh muscles with a hot bath before bedtime.
- Try calf stretches and foot rotations: If you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, getting out of bed and doing simple stretches can be enough to relax your muscles and put you in the right headspace to fall asleep. For relief in your legs, do lunges, knee bends, calf stretches, and ankle and foot rotations.
- Sleep with a pillow between your knees: Placing a pillow between your legs helps prevent nerves from compressing which helps relieve sensations of discomfort.
Overview of Our Restless Legs Syndrome Guide
If you commonly find yourself experiencing tingling, itching, and aching feelings in your legs accompanied by a strong desire to get up and move your legs, you may have RLS. RLS is usually a milder sleep disorder, but some cases detail debilitating symptoms. For the best sleep at night, try simple lifestyle changes to relieve RLS. Of course, if you feel you have any of the symptoms discussed in this article, we recommend talking to your doctor about what could be causing the condition, and possible treatment options.
If you’re still struggling to get to sleep after learning how to manage symptoms of RLS, it may be time to consider your mattress. If you’re sleeping on an old mattress or one that’s either too soft or firm for you, it can cause discomfort. If you’re in the market for a new bed, read our other guides to find the best mattress for yourself.