Sleep Tips

The effects of RLS often extend well beyond the acute sensations in a patient’s limbs. When dealing with prolonged attacks, sufferers are often robbed of a full night’s sleep. When researching tips for better sleep, people with RLS will likely encounter a wealth of information and advice about insomnia—but what works for insomnia may not work for RLS.The following tricks and tips from doctors and RLS patients can help you get more beauty rest.

Tips from doctors and patients:

  • Take a hot bath with two cups of Epsom salts, which contains magnesium. Soaking magnesium into your muscles before bed will relax them, according to Dr. Jacob Teitlebaum, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic.
  • Eat a protein snack before bedtime, such as a hard-boiled egg, a bit of chicken, or meat to keep your blood sugar stable. Low blood sugar is a trigger for RLS, and protein stabilizes it, says Dr. Teitlebaum. Avoid carbohydrates or sweets before bedtime, which cause a spike and then a crash in blood sugar.
  • Take the amino acid L-tryptophan, which Dr. Teitelbaum says some reports have suggested works as a sleep aid for RLS.  Or try the related compound, 5-HTP, a natural sleep aid, as it’s hard to get L-tryptophan without a prescription.
  • Check your over-the-counter and prescription medications. Antihistamines and anti-nausea compounds can make RLS worse, according to Dr. Michael Sellman, Chief of Neurology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. So can drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, colds, allergies, and depression.
  • Drink a lot of water and eat bananas. Administrative assistant Carol Zepko, 68, from Virginia has had RLS since high school and says that dehydration and low potassium trigger her RLS. When she was put on a diuretic for high blood pressure it became much worse.
  • Elevate your legs, keep the temperature cool in the room, and do deep-breathing exercises. Fitness expert and RLS sufferer Jolene Matthews, 35, uses these strategies instead of taking medication.
  • Take Restful Leg, a homeopathic remedy. Debi Goldben, 53, a marketing manager from Ocala, Florida, who’s had RLS for eight years, swears it changed her life. “I took several doses a day for a couple of months and was then able to reduce it to once a day, just before bed. For the past three years I take it only when I need it.”
  • Get tested for sleep apnea if you’re over 40 and overweight.  Robert Kravath, 48, found that his RLS mostly disappeared when he started CPAP therapy for sleep apnea.
  • Do a calf stretch. Angela Boeke, a 47-year-old exercise instructor, says, “Get out of bed when your legs feel restless and stretch your calves, then the bottom of your feet by kneeling with your hands in front and your toes turned under. Slowly raise your hands to your thighs and lengthen your spine over your sit bones.”
  • Focus on something creative. Virginia Cantorella, a 78-year-old artist, gets up and paints when RLS is bothering her. That stops her symptoms, at least temporarily.
  • Use a leg-raising pillow. Dee Delezene Browers, RLSsufferer and Director of Volunteers for the U.S. Pain Foundation, says,“They usually sell them in orthopedic catalogs; I got mine at an orthopedic doctor’s clinic. It is about 12 inches tall, very rigid foam that allows your legs to sit on top raised while sleeping.”

Other tips:

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Change your temperature. Sometimes a switch from hot to cold or vice versa can help. Try alternating warm and cold packs.
  • Exercise—but not too much. Exercise to fatigue your muscles is helpful, but too much exercise may trigger your RLS, says Margaret Fieland, who has had RLS for 15 years.
  • Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Motrin or Tylenol may help if you have mild symptoms.
  • Put a bar of soap under the sheets. For unknown reasons, this strange home remedy seems to work for many people who have RLS.
  • Keep a sleep diary to identify your triggers. You can find one on the Restless Leg Foundation website, www.rls.org.