June 22, 2023—Is the urge to move your legs keeping you up at night? Restless legs syndrome (RLS) can make it hard to get the sleep you need. But there are steps you can take to manage the condition.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 7% to 10% of Americans have RLS, a neurological condition that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs, beginning in the late afternoon or evening. Those sensations are often described as:
People with RLS feel a strong urge to move their legs to make the feeling go away. But the feeling tends to come back after a few minutes.
The symptoms of RLS may happen during long periods of sitting, like during an airplane flight. But they are most intense at night—when they tend to disrupt sleep.
Simple strategies can soothe RLS symptoms
Add relaxation to your bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or massage your legs before bed. Using heating pads or ice packs may also help.
Distract yourself. Choose a quiet, relaxing activity to keep your brain busy as it gets ready to sleep. That might be knitting, doing a crossword or reading.
Get regular exercise. Moderate exercise during the day may help. But don't work out right before bedtime. And avoid high-intensity exercise. That can make RLS worse.
Steer clear of triggers. Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. They may lead to increased RLS symptoms.
Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day—even on weekends.
Talk to your doctor. If you think you may have RLS, let your doctor know. They can check to see if your RLS is caused by another condition, such as anemia. And they may recommend medications or other treatments to ease your RLS symptoms.
- American Academy of Family Physicians. "Restless Leg Syndrome." http://www.familydoctor.org/condition/restless-legs-syndrome.
- American Thoracic Society. "Restless Legs Syndrome." https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/rls.pdf.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Restless Legs Syndrome." https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/restless-legs-syndrome.