Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is something of a vicious cycle. The aching or “creepy-crawly” feelings in your legs that keep you from getting a good night’s sleep are, in turn, worsened by lack of sleep.
Not surprisingly, closing that cycle by working on both easing leg discomfort and promoting sleep can help alleviate your RLS symptoms.
What can I do about RLS?
1. Talk to your doctor
Don’t neglect this seemingly obvious step.
The symptoms of RLS vary from person to person. For example, some people literally feel as if they can’t stop moving their legs, while others move them only because it helps ease discomfort.
Patients who are tempted to self-diagnose and self-treat RLS could end up doing more harm than good. Many patients living with RLS delay seeking medical help or conversation about RLS symptoms for years. Instead of investigating RLS as the cause of their issues, they may attribute their symtoms to insomnia, another sleep disorder, stress, or work and life events. This can leave RLS both undiagnosed and untreated.
Make an appointment with your physician in order to rule out such non-RLS issues as circulation problems or temporary drug interactions.
If he or she does confirm Restless Legs Syndrome, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants, narcotics or dopamine-enhancing drugs, depending on their evaluation.
2. Consider iron supplements
A blood test may reveal that your symptoms are caused by iron deficiency. Those prone to iron deficiency anemia include people with poor diets, women with heavy periods, and people with other conditions that cause excessive bleeding.
An iron pill and a few dietary tweaks may be all you need in order to banish RLS symptoms.
3. Cut back on coffee and alcohol
As painful as giving up that “morning joe” or evening wine can be, reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake can help regulate your sleep patterns. In turn, you’re less apt to experience the insomnia or interrupted sleep that makes RLS symptoms worse.
4. Relax before bedtime
Anything you can do before going to sleep that makes you sleepier, while also specifically targeting your leg muscles, is a good idea.
Warm baths encourage relaxation and also loosen your muscles. Your falling body temperature after getting out of the bath will promote sleep, too.
Gently massaging your legs, either in the bath or just before sleep, can also help.
Finally, do some gentle stretching before settling in. Flexing your ankles is particularly useful for problematic calves.
5. Alternate heat and cold
Applying sources of warmth, then coolness, to your leg muscles can ease pain and tingling sensations. Warm baths can accomplish this, or you can use warm compresses. Damp washcloths or well-wrapped ice packs are useful cool compresses.
6. Increase healthy habits
Both your daytime and nighttime habits can work together to ease leg pain and encourage better sleep patterns.
Get a moderate amount of exercise during the day – but not too soon before bedtime, since this can have a stimulating effect on the body.
In addition, discourage insomnia by keeping to a consistent bedtime routine, and create a sleeping environment that is free of distractions and stimulation.
7. Get proactive
To raise greater awareness of restless legs syndrome and its impact on sleep, XenoPort, Inc. has launched a social media campaign, #StopMakingExcuses, to get people to start speaking up about their sleep issues. BusinessWire reports:
“#StopMakingExcuses is intended to raise awareness of RLS and is designed to generate a call-to-action encouraging people experiencing symptoms to prioritize a healthier night’s sleep by talking to a medical professional.”
Getting quality sleep is important for our overall health and wellness. Get proactive about your health: #Stopmakingexcuses about sleep issues and don’t delay talking to a loved one or medical professional about restless legs syndrome. To learn more and join others who are raising awareness about sleep, visit NoRestForRLS.com or search #stopmakingexcuses on social media.
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Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training. His online course uses CBT techniques to teach participants how to sleep better without relying on sleeping pills. More than 5,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.