Relief Tips for Restless Legs at the Holidays
Between November and December, we face an acceleration in activities that may shortchange us adequate sleep.
For those with restless legs syndrome (RLS), getting enough sleep is already a challenge. The holidays may worsen our symptoms.
Why? Maintaining a busier schedule on less sleep creates a vicious cycle of sleeplessness that exacerbates RLS. Another reason: the holidays disrupt normal lifestyle choices.
If you want to survive - better yet, thrive! - during these busy times, check out these tips for RLS relief.
Dietary dos and don’ts
Food and drink at the holidays may bring pleasure during the day yet leave us unprepared for RLS flareups. Some dietary choices are better than others though. Let’s start with consumables you can enjoy.
The holiday diet “Nice” list
It goes without saying: Eating a healthy, balanced diet at this — and every other — time of year supports optimal performance for both body and mind, even under the most stressful circumstances.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables
It can be easy to make many wonderful holiday-seasonal fruits and vegetables part of your festive table.
- Citrus, apples, cranberries, kiwifruit, and pears are in good supply and can make beautiful holiday treats.
- Winter vegetables suited for a holiday menu include artichokes, Brussels sprouts, fennel, kale, pumpkin, radicchio, spinach, and winter squash.
Water — including sparkling spring water — doesn’t have to be boring. Keep a pitcher of festive (nonsparkling) water in your refrigerator for easy access. Enhance it with:
- Festive holiday bitters
- Citrus slices
- Rosemary swizzle sticks
- Paper-thin ginger slices
- Fresh cranberries
- Mint leaves
If using sparkling water, prepare your garnishes ahead of time like a bartender and keep them stored in the fridge.
Magnesium and iron
Magnesium-rich foods include:
- Unrefined (whole) grains
A healthy diet can usually supply enough magnesium. If not, supplements are inexpensive and don’t require a prescription—just be aware, taking too much can bring side effects.
Foods high in iron include:
- Animal proteins
- Green leafy vegetables
If you struggle to get adequate iron in your diet, you may wish to talk to your doctor about a supplement at the dosage and frequency that’s right for you.
The holiday diet “Naughty” list
Of course, eating unhealthy foods and drinks will aggravate RLS. Some foods — many associated with the holidays, unfortunately! — are particularly troublesome:
- High-fat foods
- Deep-fried foods
- Processed foods
- Foods high in refined sugar
- Caffeinated products (coffee, tea, chocolate)
- Alcoholic beverages
Believe it or not, you can still enjoy festivities without consuming these foods! Look at the “nice” list above for ideas.
Also, consider reframing your expectations during the holidays. Making healthy choices about food empowers you to prioritize your sense of well-being. Think of it as the gift you give yourself. Your legs (and your mental health and immune system) will be grateful!
Activity dos and don’ts
How we spend our time during the holidays may influence how restless our legs get at night.
Exercise during the day, preferably in the morning, to support your circadian rhythms. This remains one of the best ways to subvert a nighttime bout with RLS.
You don’t need to make a daily trip to the gym, however. Nor must your exercise be high intensity. Think about enjoyable ways to keep your legs in motion, such as:
- A brisk walk
- A bicycle ride
- Using the stairs while shopping, instead of the elevator or escalator
- Park far away to get in more “steps” while running errands
Dial it down
In the evening, switch to relaxation.
- Take a warm bath with Epsom salts (the fragranced ones, with lavender or eucalyptus, can be delightful).
- Practice easy yoga stretches (coordinated with deep breathing).
- Massage your legs and feet.
- Use a neurostimulation device to relax the leg muscles.
- Find distractions. Read a holiday-themed book or listen to holiday music (singing optional!).
Check your habits
Sometimes we fall into less-than-best practices as the result of being overbusy. Our preexisting bad habits may also gain momentum. Consider these options if your RLS is especially problematic at this time of year.
- Skip the bedtime “nightcap” (alcoholic beverage). A cold glass of water can actually inspire better sleep.
- If you can’t quit smoking, at least skip the before-bed cigarette; tobacco use famously aggravates RLS.
- Support your circadian rhythms with sleep hygiene, such as: consistent bedtimes and rise times, no backlit electronic devices one hour before bed, and a nightstand journal practice for capturing worries, gratitudes, or racing thoughts
- ‘Tis the season for rituals like prayer, meditation, or even gazing at your lit Christmas tree, Hannukah menorah, or fireplace in the dark.
- If the weather permits, a stroll around the neighborhood to look at lights may be just the ticket for good sleep on a dark winter’s night.
Have you found tips to help you enjoy the holidays without making your RLS symptoms worse? Please share with us in the comments below!
Does caffeine make your RLS worse?