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Restless Legs Syndrome: 16 Natural Remedies and Treatment for RLS

Adjust Your Bedtime

istockPhoto of woman sleeping late in bed.

Which Bedtime Is Best?

In the quest for restless legs syndrome home remedies, one that is both simple and effective is adjusting your bedtime. Some evidence suggests that going to sleep earlier in the evening and sleeping in later in the morning helps reduce symptoms of restless legs. Low evening cortisol levels are associated with increased symptoms. Getting adequate sleep and maintaining a normal, regular circadian rhythm are healthy habits that help sustain normal cortisol levels.

Timing Is Everything

Going to bed earlier and staying there later may seem like an inconvenience, but they’re well worth it to minimize RLS symptoms. Move dinnertime a little earlier and avoid doing too much activity in the evening to avoid overstimulation. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine and turn in a half hour to 1 hour earlier than your usual bedtime. Prep grab-and-go breakfasts the night before to allow for a little extra time to rest in the mornings. Spending more time in bed increases the chances of getting adequate rest, which will help decrease problems associated with this disorder.

Maintain a Consistent Bedtime

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Having a Routine Helps

Everyone, regardless of whether or not they have restless leg syndrome, slumbers better when they go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. The body functions best when we stick to a schedule and have a predictable routine. Maintaining consistent sleep and wake times helps minimize fatigue and reduces your chances of experiencing the exhausting problems associated with this disorder. Aim to get at least 7 to 8 hours per night, or more if you need it. Then prioritize your life so you get the snooze time you need to keep restlessness at bay.

Helpful Bedtime Practices

Certain activities will help you drift off more easily. Sipping a cup of tea, taking a warm bath, and reading a relaxing book can help you wind down and fall asleep. Avoid reading anything too stimulating. Indulging in complex or frightening reading before bed may not be helpful. Another health tip is to avoid emotionally charged conversations in the evening. Emotional upset may prevent you from falling asleep and staying asleep.

Stretch Before Bedtime

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Symptom Stopper

The hallmark symptom of restless leg syndrome is having a very strong urge to move the legs, often at night. Stretching is one of the most effective remedies for restless legs syndrome. Moving the legs with stretching or other gentle movements alleviates the uncomfortable, irresistible urge to move the legs. Adopting a regular stretching routine may help keep restless legs syndrome from occurring.

Stretch for Success

Doing gentle stretching regularly may help ward off as well as treat existing problems.. Stretch your calf muscles by standing a little more than 2 feet away from a wall. Keeping heels on the floor, lean toward the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf muscles. Hold, release, and repeat until both calves have gotten a solid stretch. Make these routines a part of your daily habit to ensure the best quality sleep possible.

Eliminate Caffeine

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RLS Trigger

Caffeine is a known restless leg syndrome trigger, so it’s best to cut it out of your daily routine. Caffeine may give you a temporary boost of energy when you need it, but if you have this disease, it can end up doing you more harm than good. If this disorder affects your slumber, you may rely on caffeine to get going in the morning, but you’ll end up paying for your fix later on at night as you discover you won’t be able to get to dreamland because once again you’re restless. You’ll be tired in the morning and will then need to rely on more caffeine the next day. It’s best to cut the cord and eliminate caffeine altogether. The effects of caffeine may last up to 12 hours, so even your morning consumption could affect your sleep later that same day.

Watch for Hidden Caffeine

You know coffee is a caffeine no-no if you have restless leg syndrome, but there are many foods and beverages that contain the stimulant. Watch out for hidden sources of caffeine including:

  • tea,
  • cola and certain soft drinks,
  • energy drinks,
  • chocolate,
  • some over-the-counter weight loss aides, and
  • certain flavored liquids for electronic cigarettes.

Enjoy a Soak in the Tub

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Relaxing Relief

Try taking a warm bath or shower, one of the more useful home remedies to help reduce restless leg syndrome. Warmth relaxes muscles and helps prevent spasms and twitching. Adding Epsom salts can reduce aches and pains. A warm bath can also help you wind down and set the stage for a restful night.

Relaxing Bath Additions

There are several essential oils, bath crystals, and other ingredients to add to bath water to make it a more relaxing experience. Lavender essential oil is known for its ability to ease you into slumber. Rose, chamomile, and eucalyptus can be similarly soothing. Baking soda and bentonite clay are other bath additives you might find beneficial. Experiment to find the bath add-ins that reduce your RLS complaints and help you get a relaxing night’s rest.

Experiment with Temperature

Photo of woman icing her leg.

Turn Up the Heat

Many people who suffer from this disorder find that heat improves their ailments. If you get creative, you’ll find there are many ways to apply heat to your legs and experience some relief. Taking a hot bath or shower is one way. You can also apply a hot water bottle or microwave-safe heat pack to the area. Curling up with a heated blanket can also sooth RLS.

Keep It Cool

While some people experience relief from restless legs syndrome with the application of heat, others may feel better from applying cold. Try taking a cool shower or applying ice packs to your legs to see if it helps you find relief. Some people find that alternating between the application of hot and cold works best.

Get Regular Physical Activity

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Get Active

Another of the home remedies is mild-to-moderate exercise, which has numerous benefits for overall health and promoting sleep. It also leads to fewer restless leg syndrome episodes. Schedule workouts in the morning or afternoon for the biggest benefits. Working out too late in the day may make it harder to fall asleep and be counterproductive. Be careful not to overdo it. Adequate exercise is a boon to body, mind, and sleep, but exercising too much will drain you and can be dangerous. Find the level of physical activity that makes you feel the best and reduces your RLS problems.

Exercise Ideas

Are you new to exercise? See your doctor for a thorough check-up and make sure it’s safe for you to engage in physical activity. Ask him or her how much activity is appropriate for you. Most experts agree it’s a smart idea to get 30 minutes of physical activity, most days of the week. Not sure where to start? Walking is one of the simplest, most cost effective workouts you can engage in. All you need is a sturdy pair of walking shoes. Stroll around your neighborhood before or after work or on lunch breaks. Walking with a buddy can help keep you on track and accountable to each other. Start slow and with just a few minutes a day. Gradually increase the pace and length of your walks as you get accustomed to the level of activity.

Exercise Your Brain

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Keep Your Mind Occupied

Immobility is a restless leg syndrome trigger. You may get the irresistible urge to move your legs when sitting still. Doing something to distract yourself can reduce restlessness or make it less noticeable. Pick up an engaging book or work on a crossword puzzle. Do something with your hands like knit or crochet. Play games on your phone or tablet. Pick up the phone and call a friend.

Portable Distractions

It’s easy to get up and move around when you’re at home and restless leg syndrome flares up, but what do you do when you’re in a situation where you can’t leave your seat? If you have this condition, it’s a bright idea to keep a few portable distractions on you. Books, games, Sudoku, and needlework will keep you occupied if you’re on a bus, train, or plane and can’t get up to move around.

Shake a Leg

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The Antidote for Restless Leg Syndrome

The defining feature of restless legs syndrome is a tingling, crawling, pulling, or searing feeling that occurs under the surface of the skin, often around the area of the calf muscle. These feelings cause an irresistible urge to move the legs. The good news is that moving the legs helps relieve these complaints. Moving or shaking your legs often provides instant relief.

Motion Is the Solution

If shaking or wiggling your legs isn’t enough to relieve restless leg syndrome, a little more movement may be in order. You can get up and stretch your calves by leaning against a wall. Do some leg lifts. Walk around the house. Do some leg lifts or squats. Raise yourself up and down on the balls of your feet. Movement relieves the condition. Experiment to find the types of movement that work best for you.

Deep Breathing Can Help

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Stress and Restless Leg Syndrome

As with many medical conditions, stress aggravates restless leg syndrome and makes things worse. Stress is associated with higher levels of cortisol and other inflammatory markers, all of which aggravate RLS. Successful restless legs syndrome treatment incorporates stress reduction techniques. Thankfully, there are many ways to combat stress, all of which may help your RLS.

Less Stress Success

Everyone should incorporate stress reduction practices into their daily routine. If you have a condition that is worsened by stress, it’s even more important to make an effort to reduce stress levels. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can very quickly activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of the nervous system that is responsible for the “rest and digest” functions of the body. Mindfulness meditation is easy to learn and promotes reduced stress and lower levels of inflammation. Listening to soothing music is a nice way to unwind and distress at the end of a long day.

Try a Little Massage

Photo of person getting a calf massage.

Healing Touch for Restless Leg Syndrome

People interested in restless legs syndrome home remedies will be excited to hear that massage is an effective remedy for restless leg syndrome. Professional techniques like Swedish massage and myofascial release work, but so does a simple calf massage that you give yourself. How does massage cause relief? There are a few theories.

The Healing Power of Massage

Massage is proven to decrease restless leg syndrome problems, but how does it work? The results of one study suggest that massage increases the amount of dopamine in urine by almost 30%. Another theory suggests massage modulates the way the brain perceives uncomfortable sensations in the legs. Another way massage may decrease RLS discomfort is by increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues via improved circulation.

Get Relief with Yoga

Photo of women in yoga class.

Strike a Pose

Deep breathing, stretching, and relaxation are three strategies known to decrease the symptoms of this condition. Yoga incorporates all three. One 8-week long study of a group of women with moderate to severe RLS found that regular Iyengar yoga practice greatly relieved their symptoms. By the end of the study, the women reported reduced RLS symptoms, less stress, and improvements in mood and sleep. Take a class to learn proper technique and posture with the poses. Once you learn, you can practice on your own at home. There are yoga videos online you can use as well.

More Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has scientifically documented benefits beyond improvements in symptoms of the disease. Results of studies prove regular yoga practice reduces back pain and improves function in those suffering from chronic low-back pain. Those who engage in yoga regularly exhibit lower heart rates and blood pressure. Yoga boosts mood. People who practice regularly experience less anxiety and depression.

Tune Out Before Bedtime

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Tune in to Better Sleep

To really get a handle on restless legs syndrome, you need to practice good sleep hygiene. This involves both adopting behaviors that are conducive to getting a good night’s rest and adjusting the physical environment to promote slumber. Sleep experts agree it’s not a good idea to have TV in the bedroom, especially if you have trouble sleeping. The bed should only be used for sleeping or sex. Watching TV, reading, or doing other similar activities in bed may promote unwanted nighttime wakefulness. Keep TV out of the bedroom and avoid watching TV, especially upsetting or action-packed shows, too close to bedtime.

Blue Light Is Bad

In addition to TV being too stimulating before bedtime, there’s another reason to avoid screen time. Blue light emitted by TV screens, computer screens, and screens of cell phones and tablets disrupts hormones that promote sleep. Minimize your exposure to screens that emit blue light in the evening to get your 40 winks and reduce the possibility of further issues.

Skip Cigarettes and Nightcaps

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Skip the Nightcap

It might be tempting to reach for a drink to help you slumber, but it’s actually counterproductive. Alcohol interferes with the quality of your sleep and may provoke sleep apnea, as well as symptoms of the condition at hand. Try a hot cup of tea or a warm glass of milk before bed instead. Herbal teas like chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower can help you relax and drift off to sleep. Having a cup of tea or warm milk before bed every evening can become a habit that helps you associate the activity with winding down. Make sure the tea you choose does not contain caffeine. Evening caffeine consumption is too stimulating and may keep you up at night. Milk is high in tryptophan, an amino acid that’s used to make the calming neurotransmitter, serotonin. Drinking a warm glass of milk before bedtime will give you the natural tryptophan boost you need to drift off to sleep.

Snuff Out the Cigarettes

Tobacco is another substance that can trigger symptoms or make them worse. Smoking and tobacco aren’t good for anyone, especially if you have this disease. Nicotine is a stimulant that affects the nervous system. Abstain from nicotine use of all types including smoking cigarettes and cigars and chewing tobacco. If you need help quitting, nicotine gums and patches are available to help you wean off slowly. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting tobacco products.

Check Iron Levels

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The Iron Connection

It is common for people who have this condition to also have low blood levels of iron. This is called anemia. There are many different kinds of anemia and underlying causes for low iron. Blood tests can help determine what kind of anemia is present as well as what may be causing it. Getting iron levels within a healthy range may help reduce RLS symptoms. While testing for blood iron levels is not a home remedy for RLS, it is a reminder that good communication with a health care professional can be beneficial in evaluating and treating the condition.

Tests for Iron Deficiency

Understanding the type and cause of low iron stores is the first step toward correcting the problem. Blood may be examined under the microscope to assess red blood cell size and color. Cells that are small (microcytic) and pale (hypochromic), as well as low levels of hemoglobin or ferritin suggest iron deficiency. Common causes of iron deficiency include menstruation and gastrointestinal bleeding. Once anemia is diagnosed, it can be treated. If the doctor recommends an iron supplement, take it with food rich in vitamin C or a glass of orange juice as these facilitate absorption of the mineral. Eating foods rich in heme iron is a great way to keep stores up. Beef, chicken, turkey, fish, organ meats, clams, and oysters are good sources of this.

Examine Your Medications

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Medication Triggers for RLS

Several over-the-counter and prescription medications may trigger or exacerbate the symptoms of this condition. OTC cold and allergy remedies containing antihistamines can block dopamine receptors in the brain and trigger restless legs syndrome. Newer antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine) and Alavert do not affect dopamine receptors. Some anti-nausea medications, including Dramamine (dimenhydrinate), Reglan (metoclopramide), and Phenergan (promethazine), similarly block dopamine receptors and trigger RLS. Newer kinds of anti-emetics, including Transderm-Scop (scopolamine) and Zofran (ondansetron), do not affect dopamine receptors. Certain classes of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclics may provoke symptoms in some people.

Talk to Your Doctor

Never start, stop, or change the dose of a medication or supplement without consulting with your doctor. Make sure your doctor knows everything you are taking and can monitor for dangerous interactions and potential side effects. If you suspect a medication or supplement that you are taking is contributing to RLS discomfort, see your physician. The doctor may be able to suggest a substitute that does not exacerbate your condition.

Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR on 2/23/2017

Restless Legs Syndrome: 16 Natural Remedies and Treatment for RLS

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