Restless Leg Syndrome: 5 Ways I Alleviate Many of My Symptoms

posted by Andrea | 07/26/2018

For most of my life — even as a very young child — I’ve struggled with occasional to regular Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). It’s worse when I’m pregnant, and also when the weather is very hot and humid.

I’ve read that roughly 10% of adults are affected by RLS, and nearly 20% of pregnant women!

What is RLS?

Restless Leg Syndrome is a poorly understood neurologic disorder that triggers pain, twitching, burning, crawling, tingling, and other unpleasant sensations in the legs (mainly at night), sparking an urge to move them constantly. 

My mom and my grandma have both struggled with RLS (it is hereditary), and Nora sometimes complains about her legs “hurting”. I believe my mom has fewer symptoms now, and my grandma takes medication since her symptoms were continually getting worse.

Personally, my RLS symptoms are less than ever before — to the point where I can’t even remember the last time I woke up (or couldn’t fall back asleep) because my legs were so restless. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m not pregnant anymore or maybe it’s because I know what seems to work for me to alleviate so many of the symptoms… which is what I’m sharing more about in today’s post!

DISCLAIMER: There is NO CURE for Restless Legs Syndrome. The ideas I’m sharing in today’s post simply help ME to alleviate many of the symptoms associated with RLS… they will not cure someone with this disorder. 

Also, in my unprofessional, non-medical opinion, I would definitely talk to a doctor about taking medication if your symptoms get worse. I know the meds have helped my grandma quite a bit! 

This is a photo I took while almost dropping my phone… I figure it works for this post!  🙂

1. I stretch daily.

I talked about this a few months ago in my post about how I try to move more throughout the day — but I’m confident that regularly stretching my legs does wonders for reducing my RLS symptoms.

I stretch for 10-15 minutes every morning, and then usually again before I go to bed.

I specifically focus on my calf muscles, my hamstrings, and my lower back — I gently massage my calf muscles as I stretch.

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2. I move regularly.

On days when I’m sitting more, my RLS symptoms tend to be worse. On days when I’m out and about, moving and walking around, I have almost no symptoms. However, if I do lots of more “strenuous” leg exercises (biking with the kids, running at the park, bending to weed the garden) I’ve noticed that this can sometimes make the symptoms flare up again.

So there’s a balance — and I obviously don’t plan my day around how my legs might feel at night, but it’s just something I’ve noticed and try to be aware of.

If I’m going to be sitting for a while (like in the car or on an airplane) I try to consciously flex my feet and ankles to activate my calf muscles, and I try to take breaks to get up and walk around as often as possible. On the flip side, if I know I’ll be doing lots of extra leg exercises in one day, I’ll make sure to rest my legs throughout the day, put my feet up in the afternoon while reading books to the kids, do extra stretching throughout the day, massage my calves in the shower, etc.

NOTE: If you’ll be sitting for an extended period (like on a long flight) consider wearing compression stockings to help with the circulation and prevent all the blood from pooling in your feet and ankles (which will definitely make RLS symptoms worse).

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3. I drink lots of water.

I’ve talked about how I drink tons of water before, and I know it can’t solve all of life’s problems, but I am continually amazed at how HUGE of a difference it has on my body! (This post shares more about the water bottle I use)

I’ve read that a good goal for adults should be to drink half our body weight in ounces of water each day (kids should drink even more).

For example: 

  • 100 pounds = 50 oz. of water each day
  • 150 pounds = 75 oz. of water each day
  • 200 pounds = 100 oz. of water each day

If I don’t get enough water I feel so much more fatigued, I get headaches, I get muscle cramps, and… my RLS symptoms are much worse.

So, considering water is free and readily available, I drink lots and lots of water every day. Of course, this usually means I’m up once in the middle of the night to go the bathroom — but I fall right back asleep again without any annoying RSL symptoms to keep me awake.

NOTE: I’ve read that caffeine and alcohol consumption can trigger RLS symptoms, so it’s advisable to stay away from those types of beverages in the evenings.

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4. I keep my feet “hydrated” and smooth.

This might sound really weird, but if my feet feel dry, my RLS symptoms are worse.

I use an electric foot file on a fairly regular basis to make sure my feet don’t get crusty or dry. Then I slather my feet and calves with cream every night when I hop into bed (I keep the cream in my nightstand drawer).

I usually massage the cream into my feet and calves for a minute or two, which also helps to calm any restlessness before I drift off to sleep.

If I don’t put cream on my feet, I’ll almost always wake up at some point in the middle of the night with the feeling that my feet are very dry (so I’ll put the cream on at that point).

It’s also probably worth noting that I always shower in the evenings — often right before heading to bed, so my feet are clean and my legs have been exposed to nice hot water, which is always very relaxing for me.

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5. I got my iron levels up.

I have taken iron supplements in the past (they helped with my RLS symptoms, but also caused constipation). However, I haven’t taken iron in a while… and at my physical last month, my blood work showed that (for the first time ever) I’m not boarder-line anemic — even though I’m NOT taking iron.

I don’t know for sure, but this could be due to the fact that I’ve been cooking almost all our foods with cast iron pans for the last 6+ months.

If you have RSL, there’s a chance that adding more iron to your diet could help alleviate the symptoms. Here are some signs you might have an iron deficiency (as well as a few ways you can naturally get more iron in your diet).

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There are a whole slew of other tips and recommendations you can find online (or by talking to anyone else with RLS). Many of them might work very well for you; others might not. The 5 listed in today’s post are the ones that have worked well for me over the years (and I have tried lots of different suggestions).

My grandma swears by taking hot baths and drinking 1 cup of carrot juice every night.

I have a friend who mixes orange juice with club soda and drinks that every night.

I have another friend who wears these RLS Tamers (a local company) and insists they work wonders.

I know people who eat gluten free or dairy free due to RLS, but I honestly can’t see how that correlates at all!

The point is, there are lots of things you can try in attempts to alleviate your RLS symptoms — so if something you currently do isn’t working, do a little research and try something else.

If you get to the point where RLS symptoms are having an abnormally negative effect on your life, I’d highly recommend talking with your doctor about starting medication — you might be surprised how big of a difference it will make on your whole life (you know as well as I do how important a good night of sleep can be!)

I’m curious to know… if you have RLS, what seems to work for you?

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32 comments

  1. julie

    09/25/2018

    Thanks, Andrea! I discovered my RLS after undergoing a sleep study and one thing they did was to test my ferritin levels. My iron had never shown up as being low, but because my ferritin levels were so low I wasn’t storing any iron. Now I’m on ferrous gluconate every day and that seems to have helped.

    An item I’ve tried recently with a fair amount of success is using a weighted blanket for sleeping. Might be worth a try for others! (My kids love the weighted blanket so much that I’m going to buy them their own for Christmas, it really calms them down at night.)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    interesting! I’ve never even heard of Ferritin, but good to know!
    And yes, we have a weighted blanket from when Nora was a baby and had all those sensory issues. In general, everyone in our family likes sleeping with lots of covers, so we keep our house cool at night!

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  2. Elizabeth

    09/25/2018

    Hi Andrea!
    It’s so helpful to hear from others who experience this. I have to read through all these comments and check out your links! A friend of mine just recommended a magnesium spray so I’m going to try that…but you’re so right, drinking water is something that is free and available and why not?!
    Thanks for the post :)) and happy birthday to your littlest sunshine Clara!
    Elizabeth

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Elizabeth! Hope to see you at the play group this fall! Nora officially grew out of her rain boots so we can pass them along (if they still will fit your girlies!)

    [Reply]

  3. Chloe

    09/25/2018

    Hi Andrea!

    I’ve had for RLS for years now as has my mother, aunt and sadly my daughter.

    Two things have mad a huge impact for me. Firstly, simply turning on to my stomach when it starts up, often this is enough. Secondly, magnesium cream (or oil but it’s messier) is a miracle worker, there are a few different brands of this, usually found near the sleep aids in the pharmacy.

    Hope this helps someone.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I always used to sleep on my stomach too — but then I started having back issues in college. So, I’m a side-sleeper now 🙂
    Good tips with the magnesium though!

    [Reply]

  4. Rachelle

    08/02/2018

    I used to suffer with RLS more as a child after a very active day, although I still get it sometimes if I’m very tired or had a big day walking …and long haul flights are THE worst!
    Now, as soon as I get a twinge in bed I take two paracetamol and am right within half an hour. As a kid, mum wouldn’t give me paracetamol so I’d curl myself up into the tightest ball which seemed to help or try and make myself lie straight and still, which didn’t help but at least I didn’t rustle endlessly about. It sure is a horrible torture when RLS pays a visit! Thanks for writing about it Andrea, good to hear everyone’s experiences.

    [Reply]

  5. Nancy

    07/27/2018

    Hi Andrea, been with you, faithfully reading your blog since around Nora’s birth! So appreciative that you are writing about this subject. I have had RLS off and on through my life. What helps me greatly to keep it in check — wear loose socks @ bedtime, drink at least 8 ounces of diet tonic water with quinine when having a particularly difficult night from RLS, take an Epsom salts bath before bed, drinks lots of water during the day, and limit sugar in my diet. My mother and sister both have RLS, too.

    Idea for a future topic: how to improve concentration; tips on how to stay on task when working on something that just needs to get done.

    Thanks for being there, Andrea…
    Nancy

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Nancy! I’ll add this topic to my list of idea — not sure I’m qualified to write about it (there are so many things that affect concentration) but we’ll see 🙂

    [Reply]

  6. Pascale

    07/27/2018

    Hi Andrea,

    The reason going gluten free or dairy free is recommended is that both cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of the root causes of most diseases or ill conditions.

    [Reply]

  7. Lea

    07/26/2018

    So weird – a friend of mine was just talking about this!

    I don’t have RLS but I have several friends that do.

    All of them swear by keeping the blanket on their feet light weight and untucked – this allows them to flex their feet if needed at night while lying on their back or stomach. I guess a tight blanket means your feet stay pointed which can exacerbate the cramping. I hadn’t even though about that part of it!

    So sorry so many have to deal with this – I feel very fortunate that I don’t! Growing pains were bad enough; I can’t even imagine this!

    Lea

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  8. Bel

    07/26/2018

    I used to suffer from RLS for many yesrs, as a teenager and adult. Once I removed all food colouring from my diet, my symptoms greatly reduced.
    Great topic!

    [Reply]

  9. Michelle

    07/26/2018

    My CPAP machine has made a difference. And keeping a throw blanket on my legs

    [Reply]

  10. BB

    07/26/2018

    What a great topic and discussion on this REALLY, REALLY annoying disorder!
    I have fibromyalgia, and the restless legs is a side ‘bonus’ from that for me. I take magnesium, which helps some, and I also take the homeopathic remedy from Hyland’s called “Restful Legs” which helps at times and others it doesn’t. Another help is tonic water, which has quinine in it, so I keep small bottles of that to drink a few ounces of when the issue gets really bad, but I also put a couple drops of Stevia in it to lessen the yuck factor of it. As a part of the fibromyalgia, I get sensitive skin a lot. It used to be only in the winter, but now I have found I have it more often any time of the year and it can also instigate an RLS issue. It gets so bad sometimes I can hardly stand the seams on my pants rubbing against my legs, so I am careful at these times what daytime pants I wear, and for night time I turn my pajama pants inside out which helps SO much in not causing my legs to react so much. Another thing I do is the lotion on my legs like you do, but I have to make sure it is one that is not thin and will be absorbed, but one that is thicker and stays on the skin surface also, as that provides a barrier to the sensitivity. I’ve had nights that my legs got restless after I got to sleep, and it woke me up. The only thing that works is to get up and walk around the house a bit, maybe take some of the Hyland’s remedy or maybe drink some of the tonic water, or take some more magnesium via the Natural Vitality mix & drink version (my husband also uses this for night-time leg cramps or charley horses, and it works immediately!). I find this interesting though, as it seems walking around in the daytime makes it much more likely for me to have an RLS episode at night. I will have to check out the Megafoods Blood Builder as I am often anemic also. Thanks for this discussion and everyone’s tips and tricks!

    [Reply]

  11. Rebecca G

    07/26/2018

    I have severe (undiagnosed) RLS – I actually have to rock or constantly shake any part of my body from my hips to my feet while I am awake and especially when trying to fall asleep or I go into a cramp. I’ve had this since I was super young and only recently did medicine give it a name. I have never seen a doc about it, I’m kind of afraid of neuro meds. What calms me down only a bit is melatonin at night but I can’t take that for more than a day or two because it can mess up your regular sleep. I will try some of these. I read that it is a strongly German gene- I wonder how true that is? I’m going to start with iron- I know I am low there. Thanks for posting this!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — that does sound severe.
    I’m personally not huge on natural methods… so if it were me, I’d definitley see a doctor. You might be surprised how much relief you get from a low dose of prescription meds.

    [Reply]

    jen Reply:

    Oh Rebecca, that sounds miserable! I would definitely mention this to your doctor. You will be amazed!

    And, I’ve never heard that it’s a German thing, but I am German on my dad’s side so maybe there’s some truth to that!

    Hope you can find some relief!

    [Reply]

  12. Jennifer Phillips

    07/26/2018

    If my RLS gets too aggravating, I find wearing compression socks to sleep helps. If I have been on my feet a lot, or on the other hand sitting a lot, I know I’ll have trouble with my legs at night. Being hot doesn’t help either. My mom and many of my Aunts have RLS and medication has helped them. I am going to try some of your tips tonight!

    [Reply]

  13. Tammie Rozeboom

    07/26/2018

    Our doctor suggested calcium with zinc and that has made a huge difference.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know!

    [Reply]

  14. Kari

    07/26/2018

    I have RLS, i take magnesium (malate) 400-500 MG every evening before i go to bed. I think It hjelps alot!

    [Reply]

  15. ShellyL

    07/26/2018

    I had RLS when I was pregnant, but never before that. It is definitely real and disruptive to sleep. I really haven’t struggled with it much since not being pregnant. Occasionally, it will flare up. I am also anemic. I didn’t know that was a factor. My doctor did recommend compression socks, mostly since I had a long commute at the time so I was sitting a lot. I can’t imagine dealing with it all the time. I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and my feet bother me a lot now though. I’m going to try some of your tips to see if they help with that. Thanks for the tips.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I don’t know much about diabetes, but I do know they make special foot creams for people with diabetes — so it must be a common problem!

    [Reply]

  16. Katie

    07/26/2018

    I was one of the 20% that got RLS while pregnant. I started taking an iron supplement (MegaFood’s blood builder is gentle on the digestive system) and it went alway almost instantly!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    That’s awesome!

    [Reply]

  17. Jen

    07/26/2018

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I have pretty severe RLS. My dad and grandmother both had it badly (my grandmother just dealt with as meds weren’t an option then), and one of my boys seems to have it as well. I’ve heard many people say it’s not a “real disease”, but I would challenge them to deal with it and then see how they feel! 🙂 It’s not fun! People have asked me to explain it and all I can say is that it feels like bugs in your legs that you can’t scratch! I also have issues with jerky movements as I get older, which are quite annoying! I am a little different in that my problems are mostly in the afternoon. Even before I was on medication, I didn’t have problems at night, but that’s when my dad struggled the most.

    I started medication (generic Mirapex) probably 10 years ago (I was around 40 at the time.). I was able to take a very low dosage for many years but, within the past year or so, I’ve had to double it although the dosage is still very low. Thankfully, it seems to be working well so far, but I realize it will continue to go up as I age. I would give up every other medication if had to to keep taking the RLS meds. They have been life changing for me.

    I know there are lots of natural remedies and dietary changes that can be made, but I would encourage anyone who isn’t finding relief through those methods to ask about meds. I haven’t had any troublesome side effects, and the relief they provide is worth it! And they aren’t expensive at all. There’s no point in suffering!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YES!!! I mentioned it twice in the post, but I would definitely ask a doctor about taking the meds if your symptoms are severe enough. Mine aren’t bad at all (especially the past 6-8 months — I almost have nothing) but if they ever got bad, I would ask my doctor ASAP.
    I think natural remedies are a good place to start, but modern medicine is a wonderful thing!

    [Reply]

  18. Sarah

    07/26/2018

    This sounded like an odd idea to me, but my dad suggested for me to wear socks to bed. I couldn’t believe it worked! So, every time I experience RLS now I get my socks on and am able to sleep almost immediately. I have some that are thicker, sporty ones that go about halfway up the calf. Or, I’ll wear my trouser socks that cover my whole calf and are thinner.

    I’ve also found it to be less frequent when I’m not pregnant and when I’m exercising regularly.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh wow — and I’m just the opposite, if I wear socks to bed, it’s almost a guarantee that my legs will get restless! So crazy how different things work for different people.
    Thanks for sharing this as it might be helpful for others!

    [Reply]

  19. Rachel

    07/26/2018

    I also have RLS and it runs in my family. My mother’s RLS is so severe that she’s been on medication for awhile. I also struggle with iron deficiency. Magnesium seem to have helped me. You can find Dr Teals Epsom salts at Meijer and soaking in a tub of that helps. There’s also a powdered magnesium drink that I sometimes have before bed. There’s a few on the market but I like Natural Vitality Calm raspberry lemon flavor. RLS can make it so hard to get a good nights sleep!

    [Reply]

  20. Mary

    07/26/2018

    Those are great suggestions. I did a sleep study and was told by the doctor that I didn’t really have an issue but the tech said I did lots of jogging through the night. I was put on some meds for it but was told they were just sleeping meds, not anything that would cure it. The sleepy lag lasted too long for me so I discontinued them.

    I’ve also used cedar essential oils rubbed into my calves before bed. It is a relaxing oil and I think it smells heavenly.

    I’ve begun drinking chamomile tea before bed which I think helps with a deeper sleep and might assist in not waking up as frequently.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    hmmm… that’s odd that they wouldn’t give you meds specifically for RLS — I KNOW they are on the market. It might be worth asking again, everyone I know who takes the meds say they make a HUGE difference!

    [Reply]