What to Know About Diet for Restless Legs Syndrome

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on October 23, 2023
4 min read

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a health condition where you have an overwhelming need to move your legs. This is usually caused by an unusual sensation. It can happen at any time of day but is most prevalent in the evening or at nighttime.

It may also affect you more when you sit or lay down because your legs are not moving. Moving your legs often eases the sensations you feel in your legs that make you want to wiggle or kick.

Restless legs syndrome is also called Willis-Ekbom disease. You can begin to feel it at any age, and it typically gets worse as you grow older. Restless legs syndrome makes it hard to sleep well and may interfere with your overall quality of life.

Simple self-care steps and lifestyle changes may help relieve symptoms. Medications also help many people with RLS.

The overwhelming need to move your legs is the main way restless legs syndrome is diagnosed.

However, you may also have:

  • Sensations in your legs that are only present when you are at rest 
  • Relief when you move or stretch your legs
  • Symptoms that get worse in the evening or at nigh‌t
  • Uncontrollable twitching or kicking

Restless leg symptoms usually happen in your legs or feet. They can also affect your arms in rare cases. The symptoms usually affect both sides of your body equally.

Many people describe restless legs syndrome feelings as:

  • Aching
  • Crawling
  • Creeping
  • Electric
  • Itching
  • Pulling‌
  • Throbbing

The sensations tend to affect your actual leg tissue and not the surface of your skin. Your symptoms may lessen sometimes and feel much more intense other times. Diet may be a factor in your symptoms being better or worse.

While there is no cure for restless legs syndrome, maintaining a healthy diet may help lessen your symptoms.

If you’ve been diagnosed with restless legs syndrome, it’s important to:

  • 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.
  • Avoid processed foods, sugar, and fried foods that may make you gain weight.

If you make changes to your diet and don’t have any improvements within a few weeks, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a medication that can alleviate your symptoms and complement a healthy diet.

Vitamin D3 and iron. This specific type of vitamin D is found in animal protein sources. Iron and vitamin D3 work together to improve your red blood cell production and other body functions. Lack of these and other nutrients are linked to leg cramps and may contribute to restless leg syndrome. Low levels of iron in your blood are often seen in people who have restless legs syndrome. You can get iron and other types of vitamin D from leafy greens like spinach and some fish.

Potassium. Low levels of potassium can cause muscle spasms and contribute to restless leg syndrome. Potassium aids your body with muscle and nerve function. Potassium also helps your body process protein and carbohydrates for more efficient use. It can lower your blood pressure and decrease your risk of heart disease or stroke.

Addressing these health concerns may have a positive effect on your restless legs syndrome symptoms.

Tips for increasing your potassium include:

  • Eating more fruits, like bananas, can help restless legs syndrome.
  • Eating more vegetables, like leafy greens, can help restless legs syndrome‌
  • Talk to your doctor before taking a potassium supplement to make sure you don’t take too much.
  • Pay attention to the amount of potassium in some salt substitutes, so you don’t get too much of the nutrient.

Other important nutrients for restless legs syndrome. You can also add folate and magnesium to your diet to improve your restless legs syndrome symptoms through diet. Some studies show that these nutrients ease symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Folate is also called vitamin B9 and promotes health at a cellular level. Similar to potassium, magnesium helps by promoting healthy nerves and muscles.

What you cut out of your diet is just as important as what you include. Avoid stimulants like alcohol and caffeine, especially right before bed. They may worsen your symptoms and make it harder to fall asleep.

Other health conditions. Studies on restless legs syndrome show that people who have this condition are also more likely to:

  • Be obese
  • Experience depression
  • Have diabetes‌
  • Have cardiovascular disease

By treating or preventing these conditions, you may also improve symptoms of restless legs syndrome. 

Sleep habits. You can also create a healthy bedtime routine that makes it easier to fall asleep at night.

Tips for this include: 

  • Keep your room cool and dark.
  • Turn off all artificial lights and electronic devices like your TV and phone.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Cut out caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
  • Get physical activity each day, like going for a walk or participating in a sport‌.
  • Avoid late dinners that fall too close to bedtime.