Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies to Treat RLS
Home remedies can offer relief from the uncomfortable sensations caused by restless legs syndrome (RLS) and help you get a good night’s sleep.
The good news is that many home remedies carry a low or no risk of causing another health problem. Plus, these non-drug options are often quite affordable compared to prescription medicine.
However, the help that home treatments offer can vary widely from one person to another. Home remedies may offer great relief to one person and mild relief to the next. Most people go through trial and error to find the right combination of diet changes, exercise, supplements, and over-the-counter (OTC) products that help them.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is one of the most common sleep disorders. It causes unpleasant sensations in the legs and the irresistible urge to move the legs. People describe these sensations as aching, throbbing, itching, pulling, twitching, or tingling. There are many ways to treat RLS, including prescription drugs, medical devices, and home remedies.1,2
Regular exercise such as a daily walk or yoga helps many people reduce evening RLS symptoms. Others find that gentle stretching or walking around the house before bedtime relieves tension in their legs. However, any stretching or exercise before bedtime should be gentle. Vigorous exercise stimulates the system rather than relaxing it.3-7
Distractions and relaxation
A warm bath or shower before bedtime can relieve muscle tension and the day’s stress, making it easier to fall asleep. A weekly massage session or massaging the legs at night helps some people. Hot or cold compresses help reduce discomfort by giving the brain a new sensation to process.5
Others distract themselves from the leg sensations with crossword puzzles, knitting, or video games. These distractions help reduce the anxiety of not being able to sleep and the discomfort the muscle aches cause.7
The bed and RLS
There is some science to back up the old wives’ tale that a bar of soap under your fitted sheet will relieve RLS and leg cramps. That is because soap contains magnesium and magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant.5
Other people find that weighted blankets override the prickly feelings of restless legs. This is especially true if your RLS causes you anxiety.5
Many people find simple lifestyle changes improve their RLS symptoms at least a little. For example, some people with RLS often find that their symptoms get worse when they have not been getting enough sleep. Making sure to practice good sleep habits every night helps many reduce their RLS symptoms.6
Another simple change: If you work in an office, standing to the side during meetings or asking to work at a standing desk can help relieve day-time leg sensations. Children in school may ask to stand quietly in the back of the room.6
Diet changes and supplements
Sugar, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and smoking are all known to make RLS symptoms worse. This is especially true if these are consumed in large quantities just before bedtime. Some people may need to completely cut 1 or all of these substances out of their life.5-7
Some people find it helps to add magnesium, vitamin D, B9 (folate), or B12 supplements to their diet, or to eat more food rich in these nutrients.5-7
Catalogs and online stores offer a wide variety of oils, creams, and compression socks that are said to relieve the twitchy discomfort of RLS.6
Other ways to treat RLS
If RLS occurs nearly every night and causes serious quality of life issues, your doctor may feel a prescription drug is right for you.6
Your doctor also may suggest you take iron pills because low iron levels make RLS worse. Iron should be taken with Vitamin C to improve how well the body takes up the iron.6
Many unproven devices are sold online and promise to treat RLS. Only a few devices are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat restless legs syndrome.3,4
Before beginning treatment for RLS, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.