Restless legs syndrome (RLS) steals sleep. It's usually worst in the evening and overnight, which can mean little rest, and fatigue the next day.
"Most people with RLS have fragmented sleep, with difficulty falling asleep and repetitive jerking motions that can wake them up," says neurologist Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Sleep Disorders Center.
The good news, she says, is that many people with RLS respond to simple treatments -- and that can mean better sleep...
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.''