It's bad enough when you can't get to sleep and you just lie there, staring at the ceiling. But people who suffer from restless legs syndrome don't just lie there. They are seized by an uncontrollable urge to move their legs. Their legs actually twitch or jerk, while they experience the sensation of something squirming or wiggling under their skin. Consequently, restless legs syndrome can lead to problems associated with sleep deprivation, such as anxiety and depression.
Researchers say this is a condition still shrouded in much mystery. Although there seem to be connections with other conditions -- such as heart, lung, and kidney disorders; circulatory problems; and arthritis -- the culprit sometimes appears to be as simple as excessive caffeine consumption or too little exercise.
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The following home remedies are designed to help you combat this problem. If you find that you still have twitching legs after you've tried these tips, however, it's time to get a medical evaluation.
Get up and walk. Walking around may be the only thing that helps. A midnight stroll through the house may calm your legs enough to keep them still when you go back to bed.
Check out your caffeine consumption. Coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, and even over-the-counter (OTC) medications may contain caffeine. Try cutting your consumption of caffeine-containing foods and medications (or substituting decaffeinated varieties) to see if your condition improves. Avoid tobacco, which contains the stimulant nicotine, and alcohol, which can have its own detrimental effects on sleep, as well.
Modify your medication. Some OTC medications, such as certain cold medications and allergy pills, contain mild stimulants that can result in jittery legs. Ask your pharmacist if any medications you are taking contain stimulants and whether there are any nonstimulating alternatives.
Take a bath. A warm bath or massage before bed relaxes muscles and therefore may be helpful.
Change your temperature. Sometimes, a change from hot to cold, or cold to hot, can do the trick. Try putting a heating pad or hot pack on your legs for a short while. If that doesn't work, drape a cool towel over your legs, or dip your feet in cool water.
Make sure you're eating well. There are some indications that a deficiency in iron, folate, or magnesium may contribute to restless legs syndrome. By eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, you should get the vitamins and minerals you need. However, your doctor may recommend supplements of these specific nutrients.
Make a bedtime habit. Get into a regular routine that will help your mind and body settle down and prepare for bed.
Stick to a schedule. Getting to bed at about the same time each night and allowing for a full night's sleep may help avoid the fatigue that could be a contributing factor to restless legs syndrome.
Soothe your stress. Stress may not be the cause of restless legs syndrome, but it can exacerbate it. Try to eliminate some of the stress in your life. Regular exercise and some form of relaxation technique, whether yoga, meditation, visualization, or even an engaging hobby may help you "de-stress."
Exercise your legs. Moderate exercise often helps, although excessive exercise can aggravate restless leg symptoms. A daily walk at a moderate pace is an excellent exercise, especially for folks who haven't been very physically active in a while.
Stretch your legs. Try stretching your calves, hamstrings, and gluteal (butt) muscles before bed.
Wear socks to bed. Some experts have found that a lot of people who suffer from restless legs syndrome also seem to have cold feet. Although nobody has studied the connection, it might not hurt to bundle up your tootsies for the night.
For more information about restless legs and how to combat them, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- If you have trouble sleeping, read our Home Remedies for Insomnia.
- If you keep the whole family awake at night, check out our Home Remedies for Snoring.
- To understand what happens when you get your zzz's, go to How Sleep Works.
- Curious about how your brain works while you're asleep? Read How Dreams Work.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.