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It's Hard to Sleep When Your Legs Are Restless

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If you’ve ever been laying in bed when you began to feel a strong urge to move your legs, accompanied by an uncomfortable pain in your legs, you may have been experiencing restless legs syndrome (RLS).

RLS is a neurological condition that can contribute to sleep disorders if it is left untreated. The National Institutes of Health estimate that seven to 10 percent of people have restless legs, and it seems to affect women more often than men. The condition often gets worse as people get older.

“RLS can be mild and only pop up once in a while and then you’re able to go to sleep after,” said Brittany Johnson, DO, second year resident at Samaritan Family Medicine Resident Clinic – Geary Street. “But sometimes RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, and make you so tired it interferes with daily life.”

Restless Leg Home Remedies

Dr. Johnson reports that the cause of RLS is unknown and sometimes lifestyle changes can help improve the symptoms. Try these home remedies first if restless legs are keeping you from sleeping.

  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol, caffeine and tobacco products.
  • Create a regular sleep schedule and stick to it, even on the weekends. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea or chronic sleep deprivation can make RLS symptoms worse, so make sure you’re getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
  • Incorporate regular exercise into your routine, but not too close to bedtime. Hedberg recommends getting about 30 minutes a day of exercise that gets your heart pumping.
  • Take a warm shower or bath before bed.
  • If you begin to have symptoms in bed, lightly massage your legs or lightly stretch your leg muscles to help relieve the uncomfortable feeling.

If the symptoms are still bothersome after 20 minutes, Dr. Johnson recommends getting out of bed.

“Staying in bed but being unable to fall asleep can contribute to a sleep disorder,” Dr. Johnson said. “If you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and do something else that isn’t too stimulating like a crossword or Sudoku.”

If symptoms begin to interfere with your daily activities, talk to your doctor. There are treatment therapies and medications that can help you get restful sleep.

“Good sleep is really important for overall health and well-being,” said Dr. Johnson. “If RLS is affecting your life, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about your options.”

Attend our sleep seminars and the sleep apnea fair coming soon.

Learn more about insomnia and restless legs syndrome from our health library.