Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) affects approximately 15% of Americans, and if you suffer from this, you already know what an annoyance it is when trying to sleep. Here are some tips that should help lower the frequency and intensity of your symptoms and the dread of going to bed.
In this day of self-diagnosis, it is first important to make sure that you are not overlooking a more serious medical condition. Symptoms of restless leg syndrome include
- The sensation of “creeping”, itching, pulling, creepy-crawly, tugging, or gnawing ache
- Twitching or jerking of the legs known as periodic limb movements in sleep
- Symptoms are better with leg movements
- The longer you rest, the more pronounced the symptoms become
When RLS is the byproduct of another medical condition, treatment of that other condition usually allows the restless leg symptoms to disappear. However, if it is occurring apart from any other known cause, it can be very disruptive to your sleep and sense of well-being. The lack of good quality sleep has been linked to many other health issues, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to name a few. Bringing this under control should produce many observable benefits.
1. Heat, Cold and Massage. One home remedy is the application of warm packs and cool packs (not ice) to the muscles mostly affected by this uncomfortable sensation. You can alternate them in 20 minutes intervals. You can also relax the muscles by soaking them in a warm bath or whirlpool. Stroking-type massage (effleurage) of the legs back toward the heart can help as well. Try these shortly before bed for best results.
2. Exercise and Relaxation. Exercise that is mildly demanding, such as walking, should be done every day. Besides the other health benefits (see my previous blog), this will increase the circulation in your lower extremities and relieve it from irritating pockets of inflammatory fluids. Stretching of the leg muscles should also be incorporated, though these activities should are best done earlier in the day. Meditation, prayer, tai chi and yoga are also recommended for mental relaxation and regulating breathing before retiring.
3. Keeping Hormones in Rhythm. Body systems work best when the hormones that manage the timing of maximized body functions are used at the same time, every day. Eating at the same time, sleeping at the same time, being highly active at the same time, resting at the same time produces an elevated level of function of each of these. The body is prepared through its hormone systems to orchestrate all the other essential body operations to function at the highest capacity if this is its regular pattern.
4. Make Going to Bed Relaxing. Practice breathing deeply, take a warm bath, read a book. Consider removing electronics that glow or anything work-related from your immediate area in the bedroom. Investing comfortable linens and make your bedroom and oasis for rest and relaxation.
5. Dietary Supplements. We have not yet found the “magic bullet” in terms of nutrients to cure this problem. However, studies that include iron, folic acid, magnesium and the B-complex vitamins as daily supplements seem to offer the greatest impact. Because B-complex vitamins can keep you awake and energized, it is better to take them through the middle of the day but not at night. Tryptophan has also been used as a sleep aid. It is an amino acid that converts to serotonin, a necessary neurotransmitter to bring about physical rest and sleep.
6. Avoid Potential Triggers. During the course of the day, avoid sitting in one position for too long. Frequent changes of posture and activity helps the body to process all of the muscular byproducts so that they do not accumulate and become irritants at the end of the day when you stopped to rest. Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine. Discontinue alcohol and tobacco to see if this makes a difference.
7. Pain Management. Standard nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen can remove the pain and ache associated with leg symptoms. However, the long-term trade-off is that you may have stomach or kidney issues that arise as side effects. You are better off to use herbs such as boswellia, tumeric (or curcumin), cayenne, ginger, grape seed extract and quercetin. These can be used for long periods of time without many known side effects. Check with your medical provider or pharmacist, but these herbs generally can be taken if you are allergic to NSAIDs, are pregnant, have asthma, or are already on blood-thinners.
8. Gabapentin. This is a medication used for seizures but has been approved by the FDA for treatment of severe RLS. Researchers are not exactly sure how it works to relieve RLS symptoms. Side effects of this medication include fatigue, headache, nausea, weight gain, difficulty swallowing or breathing, swelling of the face and throat. Again, this should be saved for severe cases.
If you or your family member is concerned about pain, muscular symptoms, numbness or tingling in the legs or feet and you want a professional opinion, feel free to call us for an over-the-phone consult! We are here to help!