There's no cure for Restless Legs Syndrome, a poorly understood neurologic disorder that triggers pain, twitching, burning, crawling, tingling, and other unpleasant sensations in the legs at night, sparking a desperate urge to move them. So for the 10% of Americans who struggle with this condition, the challenge is to manage the symptoms, which can seriously sabotage sleep and quality of life.
Yes, there are FDA-approved medications, and they're effective, but they have side effects (such as fatigue, dry mouth, weight gain, and brain fog), and their powers may be limited. "The medicines tend to stop working after 2 or 3 years, though newer ones may help for 8 to 10 years," says Norma Cuellar, PhD, a professor of nursing at Capstone College of Nursing and a complementary medicine consultant for the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. "But the older you get, the worse your symptoms, so it's a good idea to find alternative ways to manage them."
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That's where it gets complicated. Dozens of natural remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome are floating around, including wacky-sounding old wives tales about taking a bar of soap to bed and drinking tonic water. Which is why a 2015 literature review in the journal Sleep Medicine Clinics sought to evaluate the evidence for these remedies, separating the science from the science fiction.
Check out the fixes featured in that review, conducted by a team of researchers from the Tulane University School of Medicine and the Advanced Sleep Center, and decide for yourself what's effective, since no single strategy works for everyone. "When patients ask me, 'Does this work?'" Cuellar says, "I answer, the question is, 'Does it work for you?'"
Pop some iron.
Studies show some one-third of patients can treat their RLS with iron supplementation, if their stores are low. "Just like someone with heart disease would need to know their cholesterol levels, someone with RLS needs to know their ferritin level," Cuellar says, referring to the protein that stores iron in the brain. (Here are 6 signs you're not getting enough iron.) But do talk to your doctor before taking even small amounts of iron or any minerals—including magnesium, potassium, calcium, and folate, all of which may help with RLS symptoms—as they can impair the body's ability to use other minerals or even cause toxicity.
Switch up your diet.
Consider the possibility of food sensitivities. "I've had lots of people get great results from cutting out MSG or gluten," Cuellar says. "It doesn't mean cutting gluten cured their Restless Leg Syndrome, but it might have cured some type of autoimmune response going on in their body that was triggering RLS." Cuellar emphasizes the importance of getting treatment for food sensitivities and any other health conditions you may have, especially hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, or a thyroid disorder. "If those health conditions are not controlled, they will make your RLS symptoms worse," she says. (Heal your whole body with Rodale's12-day liver detox for total body health.)
"Just do it" is the bottom line with exercise, according to Rachel Salas, MD, an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Working out may help by releasing endorphins; ramping up dopamine; stretching muscles, tendons, and hamstrings; or simply relaxing mind and body. In one 12-week trial, participants improved their RLS symptoms after just three sessions a week of aerobic and lower-body resistance training. Iyengar yoga in particular was shown to nearly halve RLS symptoms and improve sleep after 8 weeks, per a 2013 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Just try to do your sweat session early in the day, as some patients find that exercising too close to bedtime makes symptoms worse.
Restless Legs Syndrome is notorious for stirring up anxiety in people who have it, Cuellar says. Worries like "I hope my symptoms don't act up tonight," "I bet they will," and "Oh, my God, I won't be able to sit through the movie on my date," can typically aggravate symptoms. "That's why anything that keeps your mind from doing that kind of ruminating can help," Cuellar says. According to research published in the journal Chest, effective types of mental stimulation include crossword puzzles, reading, card games, computer work, knitting, or meaningful conversation.
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Train your brain.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction teaches psychological techniques for managing symptoms. With this approach, people with RLS tackle anxious thoughts proactively instead of allowing themselves to become panicked or trying to push the thoughts away. "A patient might say: "I know the symptoms are going to come, and I'm going to accept them and I'm going to work with them,'" says Cuellar, who oversees a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for people with RLS. "We teach people how to do that therapy before symptoms happen, and it relaxes them; it helps them be mentally prepared." According to a 2015 study in the journal Mindfulness, a 6-week program of MBSR improved symptom severity, sleep quality, RLS-specific quality of life, and overall mental health in participants with RLS.
Check your medicine cabinet.
Some drugs trigger or worsen RLS symptoms, per studies examined in the Sleep Medicine Clinics review. The list includes antihistamines, antidepressants, antiemetics (antinausea drugs), and antipsychotics. "Always be sure that your health care provider is aware of all the medicines you're taking," Salas says, including over-the-counter and herbal remedies. And never quit an Rx medication without your doctor's OK.
Get what you knead.
We intuitively rub where it hurts, and massage does seem to help with RLS. A 2007 study found that twice-weekly bodywork focusing on the lower legs eased symptoms such as tingling sensations, urge to move, and sleeplessness. "It doesn't have to be a deep tissue massage of the calf muscles," Cuellar says. (Try adding these foam-roller exercises to ease aches and pains.) "Patients say that even a light rub and touch helps." For similar reasons, wearing compression stockings for an hour before bed may also ease symptoms. In a randomized, double-blind study in the journal Medicine in 2009, a third of the people who tried it got complete relief from their RLS symptoms, and the rest reported significant improvement.
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Hop in the sack.
Having sex or practicing a little self-love may help control RLS, finds a 2011 study in the journal Sleep Medicine. "Some patients have reported that any physical activity helps their symptoms," Salas says, "but some specifically identify orgasm as the main alleviator." Sexual excitement may work by promoting the release of dopamine and epinephrine, or it may just take your mind off things.
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Anecdotal evidence suggests that how your bed is arranged can make a difference. Covers that are tightly tucked under the mattress may force your toes to point, which can trigger contracting and cramping in calf muscles. So keep bedding loose, allowing feet to rest in a natural position. Patients also say that propping their feet up—higher than the torso—can also help prevent symptoms.
Have a drink.
Online RLS forums are filled with suggestions for beverages, including poppy seed tea, which has traces of opiates, and tonic water, which has a tiny bit of quinine, once used to treat muscle cramps. The FDA has banned the sale of quinine because it reportedly caused some serious side effects (though rare), but it's still available in one form, Qualaquin, for the treatment of malaria, and it's still available in very small amounts in tonic water. So even though studies show it doesn't work, and even though tonic water contains only a token amount of quinine—an 8-ounce glass of tonic water has about 20 mg, compared with the 200 to 300 mg dose you'd need to quiet leg cramps—some patients swear by it. "I've got older people who will do their 2 ounces of tonic water and to them, it's a drug," Cuellar says. "RLS is tough enough to treat—you think I'm going to tell them to stop taking quinine if they think it works for them?" Though it may not be supported by science, tonic water—and any other home remedy that can't hurt and could help—is worth a shot, according to Cuellar.
Skip the stimulants.
Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine may exacerbate RLS. In a study of over 1,500 RLS patients in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2015, those who didn't smoke and drank less alcohol had fewer symptoms. The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation recommends eliminating alcohol after 6 PM and losing caffeine altogether.
A device called Relaxis (myrelaxis.com) is actually the only non-drug treatment cleared by the FDA for Restless Legs Syndrome. Available by prescription, it's a pad that provides timed vibrations designed to counter the body's own stimulation. The developers of Relaxis report that the device is as effective as an RLS medication, but no independent studies have confirmed that success rate.
Bury a bar.
It sounds ridiculous that taking a bar of soap to bed—under the sheets, between or near the legs, or even holding it during sleep—helps reduce nocturnal leg cramps, but some patients and even some professionals report that it does, according to the Tulane review. It's easy to say it's just the placebo effect at work, but Cuellar keeps an open mind. "What if there was a specific soap that people used to use, and it worked because of its aromatherapy effects?" she says. Another possibility, per 2012 findings, is that soap contains oils and chemical compounds that somehow evaporate and cause blood vessels to dilate, easing RLS symptoms.
Get hot or cold.
Patients report varying degrees of success with hot baths, cold baths, jet baths, foot baths, alternating hot and cold compresses, and adding hydrogen peroxide, Epsom salt, baking soda, sea salts, or essential oils to their bathwater, according to the Tulane researchers. (Try adding one of these 16 healing herbs to your bath.) "A hot bath may be calming and relaxing and take people's mind off their illness," Cuellar says. She admits that there may also be a placebo effect at work. "If I say, 'I'm going to take a bath and that will help my symptoms,' maybe it will," Cuellar says, "because I think it will."
Try A Tonic. Drinking a 6-ounce glass of tonic water each night before bed might calm your restless legs. Tonic water contains quinine, which stops repeated muscle contractions. Some people say even a sip or two before bed helps.What stops RLS immediately? ›
- massaging your legs.
- taking a hot bath in the evening.
- applying a hot compress to your leg muscles.
- doing activities that distract your mind, such as reading or watching television.
- Try baths and massages. Soaking in a warm bath and massaging the legs can relax the muscles.
- Apply warm or cool packs. ...
- Establish good sleep hygiene. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Avoid caffeine. ...
- Consider using a foot wrap or a vibrating pad.
Try A Tonic. Drinking a 6-ounce glass of tonic water each night before bed might calm your restless legs. Tonic water contains quinine, which stops repeated muscle contractions. Some people say even a sip or two before bed helps.What is lacking in restless legs? ›
have iron deficiency anaemia – low levels of iron in the blood can lead to a fall in dopamine, triggering restless legs syndrome.What triggers restless leg syndrome? ›
If nerve cells become damaged, the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced, which causes muscle spasms and involuntary movements. Dopamine levels naturally fall towards the end of the day, which may explain why the symptoms of restless legs syndrome are often worse in the evening and during the night.What vitamin should I take for restless legs? ›
Studies suggest that vitamins C, D, and E may help people experiencing restless legs syndrome (RLS). People with RLS experience unpleasant sensations in the legs with the irresistible urge to move them.What vitamin is lacking with restless leg syndrome? ›
Considering these dopaminergic effects of vitamin D, our findings support the hypothesis that decreased vitamin D levels may lead to RLS symptoms.How do you fall asleep with restless legs? ›
- Cut out caffeine and alcohol.
- If you're on a conference call or just watching TV, massage your legs and stretch them.
- Take a hot bath to relax your muscles.
- Apply ice packs to your legs.
- Don't eat a big meal right before bed.
- Practice meditation or yoga to reduce symptoms.
- Take daily walks.
Diet for Restless Leg Syndrome
Incorporate a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet with an emphasis on dark leafy greens. Eat a variety of iron-rich foods like lean meat. Include seeds, tree nuts, and legumes in your diet.
Consumption of a quarter-cup of pickle juice in the evening, or before going to bed, is shown to greatly relieve the symptoms of RLS, including jerks, twitches, and leg cramps.Does magnesium help restless legs? ›
Magnesium supplementation is often suggested for restless legs syndrome (RLS) or period limb movement disorder (PLMD) based on anecdotal evidence that it relieves symptoms and because it is also commonly recommended for leg cramps.Does RLS lead to Parkinson's? ›
Does having RLS increase the risk of developing PD? Since RLS affects as much as 4-10% of the US adult population, it is clear that the vast majority of those with RLS do not ever develop PD. Despite this, it still might be the case that RLS increases the risk of subsequently developing PD.Can CBD gummies help with restless leg syndrome? ›
There have been reports of CBD reducing the symptoms of restless leg syndrome and, in some cases, causing complete remission of this condition.Do weighted blankets help with restless legs? ›
Weighted blankets have been shown to relieve the unpleasant symptoms of RLS. This comes down to something called Deep Touch Pressure therapy, which happens when you place evenly-distributed weight over your body, triggering pressure points that help in the production of some key relaxation and sleep hormones.How do you stretch restless legs at night? ›
Stretches for RLS
Slightly bend your right knee and step your left leg back a foot or two, positioning its heel and foot flat on the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Now bend your left knee while still keeping its heel and foot flat on the floor. For a deeper stretch, move your foot back a bit farther.
Since bananas are high in potassium, they can be a natural and effective way to reduce the discomfort associated with RLS.Does Vicks Vapor Rub help restless leg syndrome? ›
Many find rubbing Vicks VapoRub to be useful for RLS. Light rubbing with eucalyptus oil may also be effective. Tonic water with quinine, too, seems to help some.Will drinking more water help restless legs? ›
Dehydration may cause the urge to move the legs, so some people find drinking a glass of water stops the urges for a short while. soaking your feet in hot water just prior to going to sleep. wearing compression stockings or tights in bed. placing a pillow between your knees or thighs when lying in bed.Does Vicks Vapor Rub help RLS? ›
Many find rubbing Vicks VapoRub to be useful for RLS. Light rubbing with eucalyptus oil may also be effective. Tonic water with quinine, too, seems to help some.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS), known as a kind of neurological disease, is prevalent but easy to be ignored. Studies have demonstrated that massage therapy can effectively reduce the symptoms of patients with RLS and improve their quality of life.Does Benadryl help RLS? ›
No natural or over-the-counter (OTC) medications consistently improve RLS. OTC sleeping medicines such as Benadryl (an antihistamine) and melatonin may actually worsen symptoms.Does melatonin help with restless legs? ›
Does melatonin help treat restless legs syndrome (RLS)? No. In fact, taking melatonin supplements may actually make RLS worse! Some sleep disorders — specifically, circadian rhythm sleep disorders — are naturally linked to imbalanced levels of melatonin in the body.Is there an essential oil that helps with restless legs? ›
Lavender oil massage was effective to improve RLS in hemodialysis patients. It has no adverse effects, is practical and cost-effective. It is suggested to be used along with routine treatment of RLS in hemodialysis patients.Why should you rub Vicks VapoRub on your feet every night? ›
There's no scientific proof that putting Vicks VapoRub on your feet at night will help ease a cough. However, some people use Vicks on their feet to treat foot fungus, relieve foot pain, and smooth cracked heels. There is more support for some of these off-label uses.Is RLS related to nerve damage? ›
Definite types of peripheral neuropathy, such as cryoglobulinaemic neuropathy, CMT2, diabetic neuropathy, and amyloid neuropathy, are especially prone to develop RLS, often as an early manifestation.Can CBD oil help restless leg syndrome? ›
There have been reports of CBD reducing the symptoms of restless leg syndrome and, in some cases, causing complete remission of this condition. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to verify these claims.Can compression socks help with RLS? ›
Compression socks rank high among restless leg syndrome treatments because of how simple they are. You wear them like you would your regular socks. The applied pressure serves to offset the discomfort caused by RLS. However, it's a gentle squeeze that itself shouldn't make you uncomfortable.