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8 Lifestyle Tweaks for Restless Legs Syndrome

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you've got restless legs syndrome (RLS), your daily habits can make a difference to your condition.

Revamping your diet, exercise, and medications is just the beginning of what you can do to improve your RLS. You might even find some help in unexpected places.

Recommended Related to Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the part of the nervous system that affects the legs and causes an urge to move them. Because it usually interferes with sleep, it also is considered a sleep disorder.  

Read the Restless Legs Syndrome article > >

1. Get hot and cold.

Take a warm bath or shower before you go bed to relax, says Jessica Vensel Rundo, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. She also recommends using cold or warm compresses on your legs. The temperature of the compress may also distract your muscles if you’re feeling the tingly sensations of RLS.

2. Move and massage.

Janis Lopes, 73, learned she had RLS more than 25 years ago. Lopes, who runs an RLS support group in southern California, says she finds relief from restless legs by getting up and moving.

  • Stretch your legs before bedtime. For instance, flex your ankles to stretch your calf muscles.
  • Choose an aisle seat on a plane or in a theater. And then take advantage of it -- get up and move around.
  • Massage your legs. It's a kind of "counter-stimulation" to the sensations of RLS, Vensel Rundo says.

 

3. Review your medications.

With your doctor, go over all the medications you take, including even those that don't need a prescription. 

Some allergy and cold medications, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and anti-nausea drugs, for instance, may worsen RLS symptoms. There are often other options that you could try in their place.

 

4. Be active, but don't overdo it.

You need to be active, just like everyone else, for your best health. With RLS, you should avoid sudden changes in your activity level, such as suddenly starting to train for a marathon or quitting your usual routine. 

"People who have RLS function best with the same amount of activity daily," Asher says. Doing a lot more or less than that might worsen your RLS symptoms.

 

5. Back off of caffeine.

Giving up coffee, chocolate, caffeinated sodas, and other caffeine-containing foods may help you wind down for better sleep. 

''If somebody is having bad symptoms of RLS, getting rid of caffeine isn't going to solve their problem," says neurologist Irving Asher, MD, of the University of Missouri Health System. "But if the case is mild, it may make a significant difference.''

 

6. Avoid alcohol.

It might help you fall asleep, but alcohol will also wake you up in the middle of the night. When that happens, Asher says, your restless legs may bother you even more.

7. Eat a healthy diet.

Everyone needs to do this, and if you have RLS, it's even more important. 

Some cases of RLS are linked to not having enough iron. Supplementing with iron may help. 

Magnesium supplements might also be a good idea, though it's not clear how it helps, Vensel Rundo says. Talk to your doctor before starting magnesium supplements, and about what dose, since too much magnesium can cause diarrhea.  

While you're at it, get all of your supplements on your medical record, even if products are natural and don't need a prescription. That way, your records are up to date and your doctor can watch out for any side effects.

8. Upgrade your sleep habits.

Check that you're doing everything you can to make your sleep the best it can be, starting tonight. 

  • Go to bed at the same time each night. 
  • Get up at the same time every day. 
  • Finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, so you have time to digest. 
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and primed for sleep.

 

Reviewed on August 30, 2012

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