Are strange and unpleasant sensations in your legs keeping you up at night? If you are bothered by the irresistible urge to move your legs when you lie down or relax, you may have the neurological disorder, restless legs syndrome (RLS).
Restless legs syndrome can happen to anyone. Mild symptoms of RLS may start in early adulthood and can increase with age. Restless legs syndrome is also common during pregnancy.
It is thought that having low levels of iron in the brain may cause RLS. Experts also believe that an imbalance of dopamine can contribute to RLS. No matter what the cause is, it is important to know that help to manage symptoms is available.
Signs and symptoms of restless legs syndrome
Signs and symptoms of restless legs syndrome vary from person to person. Common symptoms include:
- Crawling sensation in the legs
Some people may experience pain, but often the symptoms are unpleasant, uncomfortable and disturbing.
- Discomfort in the legs and a strong urge to move them
- Uncomfortable sensations in the legs may start or worsen when sitting, laying down or trying to relax.
- RLS typically affects people at night. In some severe cases, the symptoms may start during the day and become much more intense during the night.
- You may find that the symptoms improve when you move your legs.
- You may experience repetitive cramping or jerking or the legs during sleep. This is known as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD).
Symptoms of RLS can range from mildly annoying to severely disabling. Symptoms can occur once in a while, during highly-stressful times, or every night. In some severe cases, RLS may occur in your arms as well as your legs.
Below we share 4 tips to help you manage symptoms of restless legs syndrome:
1. Avoid triggers
Avoiding these 5 RLS triggers can help to manage the symptoms:
- Manage stress
Symptoms of RLS worsens when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. To avoid this, try to manage your levels of stress, including relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Eliminate or cut down on alcohol
Alcohol can worsen symptoms of restless legs. Try to avoid drinking alcohol at least 4 hours before you sleep. Alcohol can also disrupt your sleep and increases the likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night, therefore causing you to become more bothered by symptoms of RLS.
- Avoid over-exercising
Moderate daily exercise can help to ease symptoms of RLS, however, it is important not to over-exercise. Over-exercising can exacerbate the symptoms of RLS as it can cause your muscles to become painful or ache.
- Avoid nicotine
Nicotine is a stimulant that impairs blood flow to muscles and can make restless legs worse, therefore you should avoid cigarettes, vapes and e-cigarettes.
- Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is a trigger for some people with RLS. Avoid caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, chocolates and some medications that contain caffeine.
2. Check for iron deficiencies
RLS is often linked to iron deficiency (anaemia) therefore it is for this reason that it’s important to get your iron levels tested.
Folate deficiency has also been linked to RLS, which may explain why restless legs are so common in pregnant women (folate plays a key role in healthy foetal development). When folic acid is low, B12 is often low as well, so you may want to try supplementing with a B-complex vitamin.
3. Get daily exercise
For most people, daily activity can significantly reduce the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Exercise for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week, although avoid over-exercising and try not to exercise close to bedtime.
You don’t have to perform vigorous exercises as this can exacerbate symptoms of RLS. Instead, activities such as walking can also provide benefits.
4. Improve your sleep
RLS symptoms can make it difficult to get to sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to feelings of stress and fatigue, both of which can worsen symptoms of RLS.
To avoid creating a vicious cycle, below we share 5 tips to help you improve your sleep:
- Sleep with a pillow between your legs
This can help you by relieving the pressure in the nerves in your legs.
- Create a regular sleep routine
Having a regular sleep schedule, sleeping regular hours, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine late at night can help to alleviate RLS symptoms.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine
Winding down before bedtime can help. Try reading a book, or listening to calming music, or even taking a hot bath. The heat from a bath can help to relieve restless legs.
- Avoid using devices 1-2 hours before bed
The blue light from screens suppresses sleep-inducing hormones and stimulates your brain.
Despite your best efforts, the symptoms of restless legs can flare-up. Below are tips that you can follow to help you get quick relief during these moments:
- Do not fight the urge to move as this can sometimes make it worse. Instead, get up and walk around to help relieve the feeling.
- Distract yourself by reading a book or doing an activity. If it’s bedtime, avoid using a tablet, phone or laptop as this can prevent you from being able to sleep once the symptoms lessen.
- Apply heat or a cold compress to your legs.
- Simple ankle or foot rotations can help. You can also try calf stretches.
- Relax your muscles with a massage or a hot bath.
- Pressure can help relieve the discomfort of restless legs syndrome. Try wearing compression socks or wrap your legs in bandages (avoid wrapping them too tightly as you can cut off circulation).
Sitting still for too long can also worsen symptoms of RLS. Here are some tips to help you:
- Working at an office can involve sitting for long periods of time. Try to stand if possible. If not, try to walk around every so often.
- If your workplace doesn’t enable you to take regular breaks to walk around, speak to your HR department. They will more than likely try to accommodate you by creating a healthy working environment.
- If you have to spend time sitting for long periods of time, try to avoid doing them late in the day and give yourself breaks during those activities to stretch.
If you suffer from restless legs syndrome and self-help strategies listed in this blog still isn’t helping, you may benefit from receiving specialist treatment. Contact us today to speak to one of our patient advisors who will advise you on the best route.