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 drugs can make your RLS symptoms worse. These include some antihistamines, anti-nausea drugs, antidepressants, and beta blockers. Never stop taking a prescription drug without talking to your doctor first. If you notice that your symptoms get worse while on medication, talk to your doctor about switching drugs or dosages.
  • Being still -- Long car trips or flights, sitting in a movie theater, or being stuck in a cast can all set off symptoms. Try to take breaks if you can, so you're not still for too long.
  • Lack of sleep -- Sometimes RLS can get worse if you go to sleep later or get up earlier than usual. Stick to a regular bedtime routine and get plenty of sleep.
  • Alcohol -- If you find that your symptoms are worse when drinking alcohol, try skipping it, especially close to bedtime.
  • Caffeine -- Limit the amount of coffee, cola, or tea you drink -- particularly in the evening. Other hidden culprits: chocolate, energy waters, and even some cold medicines, too. Read labels closely.
  • Smoking -- If you find smoking makes your RLS symptoms worse, try to quit. You'll improve your overall health by kicking the habit.
  • Exercise -- Regular, moderate exercise may help ease your symptoms. For example, it may help to take a short, easy walk before bedtime or do some gentle stretching. But if you exercise too hard -- even early in the day -- it may make your symptoms worse.
  • Stress -- RLS symptoms can be amped up during times of stress. Find ways to reduce anxiety and tension, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
  • Temperature – While hot, humid weather can make RLS worse for some people, others might have issues with cold. Try to avoid extreme temperatures. Get temporary relief from a hot bath, cold shower, or ice packs and heating pads.
  • Refined sugar -- These are found in many processed foods and sweetened drinks. Some people who have RLS say that when they cut back on sugar, they have fewer symptoms.
  • Clothing -- If you’re sensitive to certain fabrics or tight clothing, try different clothes, especially when you sleep, to see if that affects your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on June 12, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Barrow Neurological Institute: "Restless Legs Syndrome."

Buchfuhrer, M. Restless Legs Syndrome: Coping with Your Sleepless Nights,

Cleveland Clinic Children's: "Restless Legs Syndrome in Children and Adolescents.'

Medscape: "Restless Legs Syndrome."

National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke: "Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet."

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation: "Suggested Coping Methods for Willis-Ekbom Disease/Restless Legs Syndrome," "Triggers for Restless Legs Syndrome."

Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation: "What is WED/RLS?"

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