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Ways to Stop Restless Legs at Night

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT December 03, 2019 0 Comments

Woman sleeping elevated leg

The symptoms associated with restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as willis-ekbom disease, most commonly occur at night. At the end of the day, when you’re trying to relax, unwind, and fall asleep, these uncomfortable neurological sensations can be very frustrating and start affecting your quality of life. Below, are some simple hacks for what to do for restless legs at night when you have that irresistible urge to move.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome

Quick Restless Leg Treatments

Luckily, there are treatment options for the onset of restless leg symptoms that can help you get to sleep (or back to sleep) more quickly.

Get Out of Bed

Symptoms are typically worse for RLS after an extended period of rest. Thus, sometimes getting in a short walk or quick stretches can calm RLS down quickly and efficiently. Make sure to keep the movements small and relaxed. Getting your heart rate up and blood flowing too much will have an opposite effect on your ability to relax if you do it right before, or during, bed time.

Apply a Hot Pack

Heat is a great way to promote full body relaxation. Try applying a heating pad, jumping in the shower, or taking a hot bath. Symptoms should quickly diminish or become manageable enough to get to sleep when you are feeling warm and relaxed.

Wear a Foot Wrap or Compression Socks

Stagnation of blood in the legs from sitting too long is one of the biggest risk factors for RLS symptoms. Thus, applying pressure to the lower legs via a foot wrap or compression socks can promote better blood flow. It can also help calm the nervous system from irregular sensations that can occur with RLS.

TENS Therapy

TENS therapy, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is effective for addressing irregular nerve signals (burning, throbbing, pain, etc.) that body is perceiving. Apply TENS unit pads to the hyperactive area to help scramble those nerve signals and give the body time to “reset” itself for the night.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can help address the areas of the brain and nervous system that may be causing the symptoms in your legs. For home options, you can apply accupressure to promote relaxation or try lying on an accupressure mat. The general consensus is that pressure to the bottom of the feet is most effective for addressing RLS symptoms.

Elevate Your Legs

Poor sleeping posture can aggravate the discomfort you experience from RLS at night. Depending on what position your prefer to sleep in, try using standard pillows between your legs (for side-lying) or a leg rest pillow under your legs (for lying on your back). These options promote blood flow and happy joints and muscles in the legs and throughout the body.

Ways to Prevent RSL at Night

Establish Good Sleep Hygiene

Having good sleep habits can help diminish the symptoms you are experiencing at night. The basics include:

  • Have a cool, dark, and quiet sleep environment.  Consider black out curtains and ear plug or white noise if needed.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends when possible.
  • Avoid napping for long periods of time during the day (no more than 30 minutes if absolutely necessary).
  • Avoid exercise and eating less than two hours before bed.
  • Minimize screen time and other highly stimulating activities in the last hour before bed.
  • Get enough moderate exercise each day (or most days), preferably in the morning.
  • Use consistent relaxation techniques for your evening routine, such as meditation, reading, visiting with a loved one, etc.
  • Get outside for fresh air and sunshine (vitamin D) to keep your circadian rhythm dialed in

Dietary Changes

What you put into your body each day plays a large role in how your body and brain processes each day. Keep these in mind:

  • Avoid caffeine, particularly in the afternoons and evenings.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine in hours before bed (or even better, completely).
  • Eat more iron. Iron deficiency has been correlated with RLS due to its effect on dopamine in the brain. Increase your intake either via iron supplement or food sources (i.e. spinach, broccoli, red meat, fish, and eggs). If you’re not sure what your iron levels are, consider requesting a blood test.
  • Eat more magnesium. Low magnesium affects the immune system and nerve health. Supplements or food sources (i.e. beans, nuts, seeds, bananas, avocados, and spinach) can help combat these issues.
  • Eat less sugar. Too much sugar in your bloodstream causes inflammation in the body (particularly the nerves) and makes it hard for your body’s hormones to stay in balance. This ultimately affects the body’s normal sleep signals. Watch for hidden sugar in common food staples (read those labels) and keep the high sugar treats and snacks for special occasions rather than as an everyday occurrence.
  • Eat less processed food. Chemical additives, flavors, and colorings messes with our normal bodily functions, as the body is not made to process them. Try to stick to a whole foods plant based diet as much as possible.

Regular Exercise

Periodic limb movements (like walking and mild stretches) before sleep can be effective for treating RLS. Plus, make sure you have a consistent exercise routine that keeps the entire body well balanced. Regular exercise is important for better sleep, pain management, and proper stress management. These all play a role in optimizing RLS management while promoting a better overall quality of life as well.

Exercises for Restless Leg Syndrome

Relaxation Techniques

Try not to use bedtime as worrytime--if you are stressed about lack of sleep it is better to get up and return to bed once you’re tired. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation may reduce RLS symptoms

Yoga for Restless Leg Syndrome

Massage for Restless Leg Syndrome

Safe and Effective Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment

While the symptoms of restless leg syndrome can be annoying, even debilitating, the good news is that they do not typically lead to further health problems. However, talk to a medical professional if you have severe RLS and symptoms are affecting your quality of life and making you drowsy due to lack of sleep. A doctor can potentially prescribe you sleep medicine or other medications that promote relaxation, such as gabapentin, ropinirole, and dopamine. (Always try the less risky treatment options first since medications always come with side effects.) Also, keep in mind that certain medications for allergies and depression can actually exacerbate symptoms.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, something further may be going on. You may be suffering from other health conditions that are actually causing your RLs symptoms. These conditions may include sleep disorders (sleep apnea or insomnia), movement disorders (Parkinson’s), rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid issues, diabetes, or other neurological disorders. Seek medical advice immediately if you experience:

  • Tingling or burning in the legs, this is a sign of nerve injury
  • Moderate to severe pain in the legs
  • Involuntary movements of the legs and/or arms
  • Rigidity and trouble initiating movements in the legs
  • A sudden significant decrease in your ability to balance with weight bearing activity
  • Onset of symptoms and discomfort in other areas of the body, particularly the back
  • Changes in strength or sensation in the lower legs
  • Bowel or bladder problems

Lastly, if you are pregnant and have these symptoms. Make sure to consult your obstetrician form safe treatment options.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, the exact cause of RLS is unknown.  Luckily, restless leg syndrome treatment can be simple yet effective when you just can’t get comfortable.  From there, try making some lifestyle changes that are good for you regardless of the symptoms you are experiencing.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20377168

https://healthmeanswealth.com/how-to-improve-your-sleep-habits/

https://healthmeanswealth.com/tips-for-eating-a-plant-based-diet/

    SHOP RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME PRODUCTS

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    Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
    Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

    JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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