Skip to content

    Restless Legs Syndrome Center

    Font Size

    Restless Legs Syndrome and Sleep

    4 Changes to Try for Better Sleep if You Have RLS
    WebMD Feature

    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.

    Recommended Related to Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

    Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): Know Your Triggers

    Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, is a common nerve condition where you have unpleasant creeping, tugging, or pulling feelings in your legs. You might also have an overwhelming urge to move your legs. The symptoms are usually worse at night or when you're resting. Doctors don't know the cause of RLS, and there’s no cure. But certain things can trigger symptoms. Knowing your triggers and how to avoid them will help. Possible triggers include: Medication -- Your prescription or non-prescription...

    Read the Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): Know Your Triggers article > >

    The good news, she says, is that many people with RLS respond to simple treatments -- and that can mean better sleep.

    Here are four simple changes to try:

    1. Move Before Bedtime

    What you do in the hours before going to bed could help you sleep better.

    "Mild exercise in the later afternoon or early evening -- but not too close to bedtime -- can make symptoms somewhat better, as can doing something that keeps you alert and engaged," says neurologist Alon Avidan, MD, MPH, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.

    Gardening, for example, helps some of Avidan's patients. One of them, Eugene Jones of Westlake Village, CA, goes for a walk or calms his body by taking a hot shower or bath. "That often helped enough to get back to sleep," says Jones, who has had RLS for 35 years, nearly half his life.

    2. Time Your Medications

    Take them before your symptoms act up, Foldvary-Schaefer says. "If you know your symptoms begin around dinner time, take your medications a little earlier. Don't wait until bedtime. You absolutely have to tailor when you take them to what works for you."

    It's also important to go over all your medications with your health care provider. Some drugs can cause or worsen RLS symptoms.

    If you take a drug to help treat your RLS, it may take some trial and error to find the one that works best for you. People can respond quite differently to medications, Foldvary-Schaefer says. Many respond to the first dose, and a good number stay on the same medication for years. Others need to switch medications more often.

    "After a year or two, they may no longer respond to what they are on, so I rotate them off it and try something else for a while," she says.

    Today on WebMD

    woman asleep foot hanging out
    Is it nervous or sleep disorder?
    woman knitting
    Warm baths, exercise, and nixing caffeine will help.
    woman stretching leg
    We’ve got four ideas to try and four to avoid.
    patient and doctor
    If you think you may have RLS, see a doctor for an exam.
    woman asleep foot hanging out
    pharmacist with a client
    woman walking her dog
    patient and doctor