Restless leg syndrome (RLS) keeps millions of people up at night. If you’re losing sleep because of twitching and itching associated with RLS, try these safe techniques for calming your limbs.
There are also signs that science may finally be making progress toward a cure.
For years, treating RLS has focused on a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates body movements. Currently available medications keep your legs still, but they’re less effective at ending insomnia.
Now, Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered that RLS patients have high levels of another chemical called glutamate that’s linked to arousal. This could lead to a new class of drugs.
While you’re waiting for these developments to pan out, there are many helpful changes you can make. In many cases, adjusting your daily routine and bedtime is all you need to do.
Changing Your Sleep Habits
1. Shift positions. Take the discomfort down a notch by moving around. Raise and lower your legs. Walk around your bedroom. Sleep on your back instead of your side.
2. Follow a consistent schedule. Going to bed and rising at the same time is always a good idea. It’s especially important when you have special health considerations.
3. Sleep in. Squirming and scratching make it difficult to fall asleep. Try compensating by getting up later in the morning. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet to promote longer rest.
4. Buy new sleepwear. Consider cotton or silk stockings. They provide extra pressure and warmth while being gentle on sensitive skin.
5. Massage yourself. A rub down soothes your legs and mind. Massage your calves and other trouble spots. RLS can show up in your arms as well as your legs.
6. Stay warm. If you get good results from wearing stockings, try other strategies for raising your body temperature. Other sources of heat include taking a warm bath or shower. Pile on an extra blanket and turn up the bedroom thermostat.
7. Cool off. On the other hand, you might respond better to cold temperatures. Apply an ice pack or soak in cool water. Be careful to protect your skin from ice or excessive cold that can cause injuries.
Other Lifestyle Changes
1. Exercise daily. Regular exercise is one way to overcome RLS. Just schedule your workout for early in the day and avoid overdoing it.
2. Stretch out. Train for flexibility. Target your calves with basic yoga positions like downward dog.
3. Quit smoking. Tobacco aggravates RLS. That’s just one more good reason to throw away your cigarettes.
4. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. Stimulants are also likely to make things worse. Switch from coffee to herbal tea. Limit yourself to one cocktail or less.
5. Practice relaxation. Indulge in proven methods for managing stress. Meditate daily or listen to instrumental music.
6. Take iron supplements. Iron deficiency is common among people with RLS. If that’s the case for you, take a multivitamin or an iron supplement. Add more iron-rich foods to your diet. Good choices include clams, beef, and enriched breakfast cereals.
7. Get a checkup. In rare cases, leg spasms could be a sign of serious conditions like diabetes or Parkinson’s. Protect your health and peace of mind by getting those ruled out.
8. Talk with your doctor. If your legs are still jumpy, your doctor may prescribe medication that’s available today. As always, your health care team can answer your questions and coordinate your care.
If you’re tired of the discomfort that comes along with RLS, there are effective medications as well as home remedies. See your doctor to get started on a treatment that will work for you.