RLS, or restless leg syndrome, is a disorder that affects the part of the nervous system related to the legs, causing an urge to move them. Since RLS typically interferes with sleep, it is also considered to be a sleep disorder.
Symptoms of RLS
Individuals suffering from RLS typically complain of an uncomfortable feeling in their legs, and occasionally their arms or other parts of their body.
The uncomfortable feeling causes them to experience an urge to move their legs to relieve these feelings.
RLS causes an uncomfortable, “creepy crawly,” itchy, or “pins and needles” sensation in the legs or other affected body parts.
These feelings are usually much worse when the individual is resting, especially sitting or lying down.
The severity of these symptoms can range from very mild to nearly intolerable. The symptoms can come and go or can be chronic.
In most cases, they are much worse in the evenings and at night and less noticeable in the mornings.
In some cases, the symptoms are so severe at night that their sleep is disrupted, which can significantly impact their quality of life.
Who is Affected by RLS?
It is not known the exact number of people who have RLS. It is thought that around 10 percent of the population is affected and 2-3 percent experience moderate to severe symptoms that have an impact on their quality of life. Some things that are known about RLS is:
- Men are less affected by this condition than women
- Most of those experiencing severe symptoms are middle-aged or older
- Individuals who have a family history are much more likely to get it at a younger age, but it will progress more slowly
Treatment for RLS depends significantly on the type of symptoms the individual is experiencing as well as the severity of those symptoms.
For those experiencing mild symptoms, getting enough sleep and regular exercise could result in an improvement of symptoms.
However, when the symptoms are severe and cause problems with sleeping and daily functioning, medication may be necessary.
If the symptoms seem to indicate another condition, that underlying condition must be treated before RLS can be.
For many people, simply changing their daily routine could help to control symptoms of RLS. Taking some time to stretch, get regular exercise, go for a walk, taking a hot or cold bath, getting a massage/self-massaging, avoiding caffeine and nicotine, or losing weight if necessary can help to reduce and control symptoms.
However, as mentioned, if your symptoms are the result of an underlying medical condition, that condition must be treated before the RLS can be addressed because in some cases, the RLS will go away.
If your RLS begins during pregnancy, your physician will most likely recommend stretching and exercise to relieve your symptoms. In most cases, it will go away after birth. However, if it does not, you will need to be reevaluated.
Children who are experiencing RLS will typically not be treated using medications at first.
Getting moderate exercise on a regular basis and having a regular sleep routine is typically recommended. However, if this doesn’t work, the physician may prescribe medicine.
Natural Treatments for RLS
Many individuals would prefer to take a more natural approach to treating their RLS. While exercise and stretching are some of the most natural ways possible, sometimes those just don’t seem to work. For these cases, there are other options available:
Take a stroll
When you’re trying to settle in for the night, but your RLS simply won’t let you, it may be a good idea to get up and walk. Just take a stroll through the house, perhaps go to the kitchen and get a drink of water. That may be just what you need to calm your legs so that you can sleep.
Watch caffeine consumption
Things such as tea, sodas, coffee, chocolate, and even some OTC medications all contain caffeine. Try to cut back on your caffeine consumption and see if your condition improves.
Additionally, avoid tobacco- which contains the stimulant nicotine- as well as alcohol, which can both have negative impacts on your sleep cycle.
Watch your medications
Some OTC medications have mild stimulants in them which can cause jittery legs. Talk with your pharmacist to find out of any of the medications you’re using have stimulants in them and if there are any alternatives.
Take a bath
Taking a warm bath- with Epsom salts- just before bed can help to relax your muscles and therefore keep RLS at bay. You also might want to consider self-massage or seeing if your significant other is willing to give you one.
Change the temperature
In some cases, simply changing temperature from hot to cold or vice-versa can help to ease RLS symptoms. Try to put a hot pack on your legs for a bit. If that doesn’t help, you can dip your feet in cool water or place a cool towel over your legs.
Check your diet
Some studies have suggested that deficiencies in magnesium, iron, or folate can be a contributing factor to RLS.
By simply making sure you consume a wide variety of foods that are rich in nutrients, you should be getting the appropriate vitamins and minerals.
However, you may need to take supplements of these specific nutrients if your diet isn’t providing them.
Create a bedtime schedule/habit
Making sure that you go to bed at the same time every night will help to avoid the fatigue that could be causing your RLS.
You also want to have a regular routine that will tell your mind and body when it is time to settle down and get ready for bed.
Soothe stress levels
Though stress may not be what is causing your RLS, it can definitely make it much worse.
Take some time to exercise regularly, as well as participate in some form of relaxation, whether it be meditation, yoga, visualization, or simply taking part in a favorite hobby.
Exercise and stretch your legs
Getting moderate exercise can help RLS significantly. However, excessive exercise can actually cause it to be worse.
For those who haven’t been active, taking a daily walk at a moderate pace is a great way to start.
Also, take the time to stretch out your calves, glutes, and hamstrings every night before going to bed.
Sleep in socks
Some research has revealed that many individuals who suffer from RLS also have cold feet. Though there have been no studies, it may not hurt to keep your feet warm for the night.