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Getting Rest with RLS

Control Restless Legs Syndrome to Sleep Better

When your legs ache, you can usually lie down and relax to alleviate your symptoms. But for people who suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS for short), relaxing only makes them hurt more. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 12 million Americans are suffering from RLS, which is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move them in an effort to relieve these sensations. The intensity of symptoms, which may occur either occasionally or regularly, ranges from irritating to painful, and the sensations are often described as burning, tingling, or tugging feelings deep inside the leg, commonly between the knee and ankle. RLS affects people of all ages, but it is most common in people middle-aged or older.

Although no cause for RLS has been found, research is underway. Some recent findings include:
  • About 50% of cases occur in people with a family history of RLS.
  • Low iron levels or anemia may trigger symptoms in some people.
  • Some chronic conditions, like kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy, have been correlated with RLS.
  • Symptoms may arise during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester, but usually disappear within a month after delivery.
  • Certain medications may aggravate RLS.
  • Using caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may aggravate symptoms in some people.
To most people suffering from RLS, even more bothersome than the pain and sensations are the secondary symptoms. Exhaustion and daytime fatigue are constant struggles, as RLS makes sleeping difficult, but can also affect relationships and job performance, as well as general quality of life. RLS doesn’t usually get better on its own, so getting treatment is the imperative first step to getting a good night’s sleep. Here are some ways RLS may be treated:
  • Consume foods (or dietary supplements, as prescribed by a physician) to correct potential nutritional deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium.
  • Work with your health care provider to treat any underlying disorders (as discussed above) that might be contributing to your RLS symptoms.
  • If you think one of your medications may be contributing to your symptoms, talk to your doctor about finding an alternative medication for your condition that doesn't have this negative side effect.
  • Avoid or limit your use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern, or change sleep patterns (i.e. go to bed later and sleep longer) to minimize symptoms.
  • Take part in moderate exercise on a regular basis. Moderation is essential since excessive exercise may aggravate RLS symptoms.
  • Try a combination of hot baths, leg massage, heat or ice packs to diminish uncomfortable sensations in your legs.
Thinking their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, many people with RLS don't seek treatment and suffer needlessly. But there are many treatment options available, and doctor and patient can work to find a solution together. If the options discussed above don’t work for you, talk to your doctor about prescription medications that help relieve RLS symptoms so you can sleep better.

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Member Comments

  • excellent article. I learned a lot!
  • Circulation isn't everything, but my leg pain reduces when I have improved my circulation.
  • Read the info on the john Hopkins Medical site. About 80% of RLS people have low iron--not necessarily low enough to treat to get your red cells higher though. I asked my doctor; we tested for my ferritin and red cell numbers. I started taking a prescribed amount of iron for several months and I'm *much* better!! Not only that...my red cell numbers are high enough that I can donate blood again...AND I have definitely noted an increase in energy and less fatigue! WIN-WIn-WIn!!
    This seems too easy, but it works. I take 2 aspirin and elevate my legs in bed with a pillow under my knees. I fall to sleep within minutes, with no more RLS!
  • I was diagnosed several years ago. Soap is just an old wives tale and doesn't do anything. I tried Requip and experienced amplification from it (it makes the RLS worse and more often than just night time). I've been on a low dose of Methadone for several years and it has been a miracle for me. If Requip doesn't work talk to your Neurologist about Methadone.
  • JOHARA327
    I lived with the pain for years until this past Winter. I finally noticed something; when I woke up in agony, I would start massaging my legs until the pain stopped, usually it took about 10 minutes. During that time, my skin would change from coolish to warmer. I wondered if the problem had something to do with poor circulation, sitting too long during the day or something else that was a day time thing that carried over to the night. I started to take notes as to when the pain occurred and any background info, like what I did or didn't do during the day. I thought, what if it was something to do with surface body temperature? I hate sleeping in a warm room, was that part of the problem? I sew, and made myself a pair of footed pajama bottoms using very heavy fleece. I haven't had a problem pain in my legs at night since. Simple solution to a complex problem.
  • I have tried many things for RLS with the exception of prescription medication.
    Something that seems to work for me a majority of the time is a couple tablespoons of yellow mustard before stretching. I read about the mustard on a website with multiple other "natural" remedies.
    I know that antihistamines exacerbate my problem so try to do without.

    Having read all the comments here, I am grateful to the poster who talked about diet soda.
    I have recently been in a "good" period the last several months and had not associated my relief from significant symptoms to having reduced my diet soda intake to 3 cans or less per week and watch what type of 'sweetner' is in the tea I drink.

    Soap bars did nothing for me.
    Thanks all.
  • I stopped aspartame. I was a diet coke addict. RLS is gone now. I still drink coffee.
  • I was on Effexor and determined that was adding to my RLS. I also advise taking your allergy pill in the morning. For me taking it at night also exacerbated my symptoms.

    I am a Massage Therapist. RLS is mainly caused by toxin build-up in the legs. Tell your Massage Therapist to work along the Tibialis Posterior Muscle. It is very painful initially, but diminishes as gentle work, on the area, is performed, and will eliminate the problem for several weeks. Drink lots of fluid after your massage to flush out toxins. Much better than medicine!
  • I found something that helps with RLS and it seems crazy! An older lady I work with told me to put 2 bars of soap under my bottom sheet at the foot of the bed and it would help my RLS. It REALLY does! I have no idea why. I have researched to find out, but no one knows why it works. Try it, what can it hurt? You'll be amazed!
  • I deal with RLS. I was placed on Sinemet 25-100. It works very well. I also just started sleeping with a bar of soap under my sheets since it has been known to help others and I figured it doesn't cost as much as the medication and if it works it would be worth the investment.
  • I'm so glad that I only get this occasionally. It is so aggravating! I don't know what I'd do if I had it frequently.
    Good article..I remember when the only place you'd hear about RLS was on Art Bell's "Coast to Coast AM " late night talk show! Right up there with big foot, alien abductions, and conspiracy theorists! Between working out, Requip, and nightly ibuprofen, I've got mine pretty much under control, but I think I might start adding nightly yoga to the mix.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.