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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 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.
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.
Having good sleep habits can help diminish the symptoms you are experiencing at night. The basics include:
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:
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.
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
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:
Lastly, if you are pregnant and have these symptoms. Make sure to consult your obstetrician form safe treatment options.
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.