Getting a good night’s sleep is important for both your physical and mental health, but for people with restless legs syndrome (RLS), getting enough sleep can be difficult. If you have RLS, there are steps you can take on your own to find relief.
Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder with symptoms that include throbbing, creeping and crawling sensations in the legs as well as a desire to move the legs while resting or trying to sleep. Experts believe RLS may be caused by an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine. The condition often runs in families.
According to Roger Kurlan, MD, neurologist and medical director of the Movement Disorders Program at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ, "There are effective prescription medications to treat RLS."
For some RLS patients, however, simply making a few lifestyle changes may relieve or lessen their symptoms.
Here are a few ways you can take control of your RLS.
Follow a Sleep Routine
Being tired can make RLS symptoms worse, so it's important to get enough sleep each night. Having a set routine for sleeping can help ensure that you get all the sleep you need every night.
Here are some healthy sleep habits:
- Keep your sleeping environment, cool, quiet and comfortable.
- Establish a regular bedtime and waking time.
- Get enough sleep each night to feel well rested.
Some RLS patients have reported that staying up later and waking later in the day helps them get enough sleep.
Dr. Kurlan offered this advice to those with RLS: "Don't get into bed at night until you are ready to go to sleep. Watch TV or read somewhere else."
Curb Your Caffeine Intake
Cutting out or at least lowering caffeine consumption has helped lessen the severity of RLS symptoms for many. The Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding coffee, teas and soft drinks with caffeine for a few weeks to see if it helps.
Steer Clear of Alcohol and Tobacco
Alcohol and tobacco can affect how well you sleep and may aggravate or trigger RLS symptoms. As with caffeine, lowering your intake of tobacco and alcohol may reduce your RLS symptoms.
Exercise is a healthy choice for anyone. But for RLS patients, a bit of moderate exercise each day may relieve some of their symptoms. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) warns that working out too late in the day or simply overdoing your workout can backfire and intensify RLS symptoms — so work out early and know your limits.
Make Time for Rest and Relaxation
Experts suggest that stress can aggravate RLS symptoms. Try meditation, yoga or a warm bath to relax and relieve stress. You can even pamper yourself with a massage to help melt away stress and relax your muscles.
Stretch Out or Take a Walk
Stretch out your calves and hamstrings before you climb into bed to help prevent RLS symptoms. Taking a midnight stroll around the house may calm your legs down enough to make sleep easier.
Talk to Your Doctor About Pain Relievers
According to the Mayo Clinic, when RLS symptoms are very mild, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) at the first sign of symptoms may lessen some of RLS’s uncomfortable sensations.
Think about Iron
Low levels of iron are sometimes behind RLS, and therefore, some patients may consider adding more iron to their diets.
"Iron deficiency can cause or worsen RLS, and dietary iron supplements can often be helpful," Dr. Kurlan told dailyRx News.
Talk to your doctor before starting to take any dietary supplements.
Mind Your Back
According to Dr. Kurlan, back problems can play a role in RLS. "Back pain and lumbar spine problems can exacerbate RLS," Dr. Kurlan said.
"Work on any existing back problems with good back hygiene, exercise or physical activity," he said.
Start a Diary
Everyone has different RLS triggers. For some patients, climbing stairs or sitting in a car too long may trigger symptoms. Keep a diary to help identify things that trigger or worsen your RLS symptoms. Knowing your individual symptom triggers can help you avoid them in the future.
The NINDS says that RLS is generally a lifelong condition with symptoms that are likely to become more severe over time, so taking steps to ease symptoms now may provide relief for years to come.