Restless legs syndrome is a type of neurological disorder that causes varying sensations in the leg, such as pain and nighttime twitching or kicking. Other symptoms can be difficult to explain but they can be described as creeping, crawling, electric, and pulling sensations. The symptoms of RLS tend to get worse when you’re relaxing, sitting, or lying in your bed, particularly at nighttime. For this reason, people with RLS often have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, reducing their quality of life.
The severity and frequency of RLS symptoms also depend on each individual. Women are also more prone to RLS than men and can occur at any age (1). If you’re having trouble sleeping at night because of RLS, you’ve probably searched for certain remedies that can ease the symptoms. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the remedies you can do at home to help manage your RLS.
1. Lifestyle and Dietary Modification
Old habits die hard but if you’ve been plagued by RLS symptoms, you need to take action to improve your quality of life. One remedy is to quit or cut down on smoking. Aside from smoking’s detrimental effects, it can also affect your sleep because it can make you feel edgy.
Generally, smoking and drinking alcohol or coffee tend to aggravate the symptoms of RLS. Even though alcohol can induce sleep in some people, know that it can also affect the quality of your sleep. It can even make sleep apnea worse. Like alcohol, caffeine can also interfere with your sleep because it is a stimulant. Additionally, consuming foods with high sugar content, including dairy products have also been recognized as RLS triggers. Try to avoid or eliminate these triggers, especially before bedtime to see if it can help ease your RLS symptoms.
2. Dietary Supplements
According to some studies, taking certain supplements may help ease the symptoms of RLS. One study has shown that vitamin D supplements can help reduce the severity of the RLS symptoms (2). Although using supplements to relieve RLS symptoms still require more research, existing studies have shown promising results.
There is also an association found between RLS and other vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies, which include low iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin E levels in the body (3, 4). The results of these studies show an improvement in the symptoms when these vitamins and minerals are given to people with RLS.
When your healthcare provider finds out that your mild to moderate RLS symptoms are due to a deficiency in magnesium, supplementing with magnesium is a reliable and effective treatment for your condition (5, 6). Symptoms of RLS can also be relieved through the intake of iron supplements, particularly if you have iron deficiency (7). Your healthcare provider can order a simple blood test to determine if your body is low in iron, magnesium, and other deficiencies. For iron deficiency, your healthcare provider will prescribe oral iron supplements. However, intravenous iron supplementation may also be considered as a form of treatment in some cases.
3. Warm or Cold Compresses
One of the tried and tested home remedies when it comes to relieving pain, swelling, and inflammation in certain areas of the body is the application of warm or cold compresses. This traditional home remedy can be effective in improving the symptoms brought about by RLS (8, 9). Hot and cold therapy can also enable new sensations for the nervous system to process, which may result in a reduction of unpleasant RLS symptoms. Aside from applying hot and cold packs to your affected leg, you can also take a hot or cold bath before bedtime.
4. Healthy Sleep Habit
Developing good sleep hygiene is very important if you regularly experience RLS symptoms. Since RLS often disrupts nighttime sleep, make sure to avoid its triggers or factors that can worsen the symptoms. Creating a comfortable sleep environment and following a sleep schedule can help promote sleep every night.
To create a good sleep environment, consider investing in soft sheets and a quality mattress as well as clearing away electronic gadgets, such as mobile phones and computers, which can definitely disrupt your sleep. Go to bed and wake up the same time every single day to help your body adapt. You can also take note or keep a sleep journal so you can track your progress and identify which approach doesn’t work in getting a good night’s sleep.
5. Exercise and Relaxation Techniques
People with RLS report significant relief when they exercise. According to the National Institutes of Health, mild symptoms or RLS can be alleviated through moderate daily exercises, such as jogging, cycling, walking, and other physical activities that can help your legs move. Since pressure can also help alleviate the symptoms of RLS, wearing compression stockings or socks is also beneficial (10). Compression socks also provide extra leg support and improved blood circulation whether you’re exercising or at rest.
Although exercise increases your chances of having a restful sleep at night, you should avoid strenuous exercises, especially those that can cause joint and muscle fatigue to avoid triggering the symptoms of RLS. Before bedtime, you can have a nice warm bath to help relax your leg muscles.
The symptoms of RLS can also be triggered by stress, so anything that can minimize stress levels can also help ease your symptoms. Aside from exercise, people with RLS can also benefit from relaxation techniques, such as yoga, Pilates, stretching, meditation, and breathing.
When to Seek Medical Help
People with restless legs syndrome do not always require medical intervention to relieve their symptoms. Mild to moderate cases of restless legs can be managed at home. However, when severe RLS symptoms occur and when these symptoms disrupt your daily routine and sleep pattern, seeking medical help becomes a priority. Significant discomfort caused by RLS symptoms may be due to an underlying health condition that needs to be properly diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional.
- Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. (2018). Ninds.nih.gov. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Restless-Legs-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet
- Wali S, e. (2015). The effect of vitamin D supplements on the severity of restless legs syndrome. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25148866
- Popoviciu L, e. (1993). Clinical, EEG, electromyographic and polysomnographic studies in restless legs syndrome caused by magnesium deficiency. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8363978
- Sagheb MM, e. (2012). Efficacy of vitamins C, E, and their combination for treatment of restless legs syndrome in hemodialysis patients: a randomized, double-blind, plac... - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22317944
- Hornyak M, e. (1998). Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9703590?dopt=Abstract
- Silber, M., Ehrenberg, B., Allen, R., Buchfuhrer, M., Earley, C., Hening, W., & Rye, D. (2004). An Algorithm for the Management of Restless Legs Syndrome. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 79(7), 916-922. doi:10.4065/79.7.916
- Guo, S., Huang, J., Jiang, H., Han, C., Li, J., Xu, X., … Wang, T. (2017). Restless Legs Syndrome: From Pathophysiology to Clinical Diagnosis and Management. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 9, 171. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2017.00171
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/restless-leg-syndrome/restless-legs-syndrome-rls-treatment
- Treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/restless-legs-syndrome/what-is-rls/treatment.html
- Wilt TJ, MacDonald R, Ouellette J, et al. Treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2012 Nov. (Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, No. 86.) Introduction. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115373/