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Restless Legs Syndrome: Getting More Sleep


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Having a sleepless night now and then can be annoying. But when you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), going without sleep night after night can make life miserable. You may be so tired that you just feel like crying.

If restless legs are robbing you of sleep, you're not alone. But there may be some things you can do for yourself to make it easier to get a good night's sleep, especially if your symptoms are mild.

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Restless legs syndrome is a disorder that makes you feel like you must move. This feeling usually affects the legs. But some people feel it in their arms, torso, or in a phantom limb (the part of a limb that has been amputated). People often describe these feelings as tingling, "pins and needles," prickling, pulling, aching, or crawling. When you have restless legs syndrome, moving usually makes you feel better, at least for a short time. For most people, this problem happens at night when they are trying to sleep.

Test Your Knowledge

The main symptom of restless legs syndrome is numbness in the legs.

True
False

Being unable to go to sleep is the biggest problem with restless legs syndrome (RLS). When RLS keeps you up at night, you keep getting more and more tired. And being overly tired can make your RLS even worse.

But many people are able to get a good night's sleep most nights by making a few changes in their habits. For example, getting regular exercise and drinking less caffeine can help with sleep.

Even with restless legs syndrome, some changes in your habits may help you sleep better.

Test Your Knowledge

Daily habits can affect my sleep.

True
False

If your RLS symptoms are mild, you may be able to get a good night's sleep most nights by making some changes in your lifestyle. Make sure to follow these general sleep tips:

  • During the day:
    • Don't drink liquids that have caffeine (coffee, tea, some sodas), especially 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
    • Don't use tobacco, especially near bedtime or if you wake up during the night. Nicotine is a stimulant, which means it makes you more alert and more awake.
    • Don't drink alcohol late in the evening.
    • Get regular exercise, but don't exercise within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime.
    • Get plenty of sunlight in the outdoors, especially in late afternoon.
  • At bedtime:
    • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. A light snack may help you sleep.
    • Don't go to bed thirsty, but don't drink so much that you have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom.
    • Set aside time for solving problems earlier in the day so you don't carry anxious thoughts to bed. Try writing down your worries in a "worry book," and then set it aside well before bedtime.
    • Do relaxing activities before bedtime. Try deep breathing, yoga, meditation, tai chi, or muscle relaxation techniques. Take a warm bath. Play a quiet game, or read a book.
  • During the night:
    • Reduce noise in the house, or mask it with a steady, low noise such as a fan running on slow speed or a radio tuned to static. Use comfortable earplugs if you need to.
    • Keep the room cool and dark. If you can't darken the room, use a sleep mask.
    • Use a pillow and a mattress that are comfortable for you.
    • If watching the clock makes you anxious about sleep, turn the clock so you can't see it, or put it in a drawer.
    • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sex. A bit of light reading may help you fall asleep, but if it doesn't, do your reading elsewhere in the house. Don't watch TV in bed.
    • If you can't fall asleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and don't get back to sleep quickly, get out of bed and go to another room until you feel sleepy.

People who have RLS may need to do extra things to get more sleep:

  • Regular exercise is important, but very hard workouts may make your symptoms worse. Try to figure out what level of exercise works for your symptoms and at what point exercise makes them worse.
  • Bathing in very hot or very cold water before bedtime may help. Or try using a heating pad or ice bag. Some people find that having a heated mattress pad on the bed helps.
  • Change your sleep schedule. If your symptoms usually get better around 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., try going to bed later than usual or allowing extra time for sleeping in to help you get the rest you need.
  • You may be able to control your symptoms by gently stretching and massaging your limbs before bed or as discomfort begins.

If your symptoms don't get better, talk to your doctor. He or she may prescribe drugs to control your RLS and help you sleep.

Test Your Knowledge

When I am tossing and turning, unable to sleep, I should stay in bed until I fall asleep.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to find ways to get more sleep.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes where you have questions. Your doctor may have more suggestions on how you can sleep better.

If you would like more information on restless legs syndrome, the following resources are available:

Organizations

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nhlbi.nih.gov

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:


National Sleep Foundation
1010 North Glebe Road
Suite 310
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (703) 243-1697
Email: nsf@sleepfoundation.org
Web Address: www.sleepfoundation.org

The National Sleep Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, can provide you with brochures on sleep disorders and a list of accredited sleep disorder clinics.


Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
1530 Greenview Drive SW
Suite 210
Rochester, MN 55902
Phone: (507) 287-6465
Fax: (507) 287-6312
Email: rlsfoundation@rls.org
Web Address: www.rls.org

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with restless legs syndrome (RLS). General medical information and research updates are available online and through newsletters and special publications. The website has numerous links to support groups and resources for more information about the condition.


WE MOVE
5731 Mosholu Avenue
Bronx, NY 10471
Email: wemove@wemove.org
Web Address: www.wemove.org

WE MOVE is an Internet resource for movement disorder information. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to educating people about the latest treatment options for neurologic movement disorders. WE MOVE also has information on support groups and hosts discussions and chat rooms on the website.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKarin M. Lindholm, DO - Neurology
Last RevisedMarch 8, 2013

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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