Many things can trigger a flare-up of restless legs, but a little prevention may be able to reduce your symptoms.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. People with RLS may feel itching, crawling, or kicking sensations in their legs.

These sensations are usually strongest when you lie or sit for extended periods of time, causing RLS to often be most active during sleep.

A variety of things can cause RLS to flare up, including medications, vitamin deficiencies, and substances such as caffeine and alcohol.

There are several triggers linked to flare-ups of restless legs syndrome (RLS). Triggers will vary depending on the person, but common triggers include:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol can interfere with your typical sleep cycle. This may trigger episodes of RLS.
  • Caffeine: Because caffeine is a stimulant, consuming it too close to bedtime can keep you alert and may trigger RLS.
  • Iron deficiencies: Experts suggest that low iron levels are linked to RLS. Iron deficiencies have also been linked to worse sleep overall.
  • B12 and magnesium deficiencies: Low levels of vitamin B12 and magnesium have also been linked to a higher risk of RLS flare-ups.
  • Pregnancy: Temporary RLS during pregnancy is fairly common, especially during the third trimester.
  • Sitting still: Sitting still for a long time, such as on long flights, can trigger RLS. Even long work days or staying on the couch for a movie marathon can sometimes lead to an RLS flare. Getting up regularly to stretch your legs can help reduce the risk.

Medications that cause restless legs

Medications are a common trigger for RLS. Several medications have been linked to restless legs.

Medications known to cause restless legs syndrome include:

Restless legs is worse at night for many people. The majority of people with RLS report having sleep-related symptoms.

The symptoms of RLS can cause you to feel the need to get out of bed or stretch your legs, kick your legs, or perform other actions that disturb sleep.

Sitting or lying down for a long time is a primary trigger for RLS. This is why RLS is often worse at night when someone stays in one place for hours.

RLS can also wake people up, leading to disturbed sleep. Disturbed sleep can then worsen RLS episodes, creating a cycle that might be hard to get out of.

Moving your legs is often the quickest way to relieve restless legs syndrome. But symptoms typically return as soon as you stop moving your legs.

Sometimes, longer-term relief can be found with techniques such as walking, stretching, or simple leg massage.

To prevent RLS symptoms, you can try:

  • Improving your sleep quality: Better sleep can reduce RLS flares. Taking steps to improve your sleep can help, like avoiding caffeine in the evening and reducing bedtime screen use.
  • Taking hot baths: Hot baths can improve circulation and may help reduce RLS at night.
  • Increasing exercise: Adding more physical activity to your day can reduce RLS symptoms.
  • Leg massages: Leg massage can reduce RLS. You can perform a leg massage on yourself, use a massage tool, or receive a leg massage from a professional.
  • A compression device: Compression leg devices, like compression socks, may be able to relieve RLS symptoms for some people.

When to see a doctor

It’s a good idea to see a healthcare professional if you have symptoms of RLS that are not helped by at-home treatments. They can help you find a treatment that works for you.

If your symptoms are getting worse or making it difficult to sleep, reach out to a doctor soon to find relief.

Was this helpful?

Restless legs can make it difficult to relax and sleep. For many people, RLS is worse at night.

RLS flares can be triggered by certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, caffeine, and long periods of inactivity.

Treatments such as lifestyle changes, self-care remedies, and medications can help relieve restless legs.