Update your browser or enable Javascript to view and use this site as designed.
Restless Legs Syndrome: Getting More Sleep

Restless Legs Syndrome: Getting More Sleep

Introduction

Having a sleepless night now and then can be annoying. But when you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), going without sleep night after night can make life miserable. You may be so tired that you just feel like crying.

If restless legs are robbing you of sleep, you're not alone. But there may be some things you can do for yourself to make it easier to get a good night's sleep, especially if your symptoms are mild.

 

Restless legs syndrome is a disorder that makes you feel like you must move. This feeling usually affects the legs. But some people feel it in their arms, torso, or in a phantom limb (the part of a limb that has been amputated). People often describe these feelings as tingling, "pins and needles," prickling, pulling, aching, or crawling. When you have restless legs syndrome, moving usually makes you feel better, at least for a short time. For most people, this problem happens at night when they are trying to sleep.

Test Your Knowledge

The main symptom of restless legs syndrome is numbness in the legs.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    The main symptom is a tingling or aching feeling in your legs or some other part of your body. This feeling makes you want to move to get relief.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    The main symptom is a tingling or aching feeling in your legs or some other part of your body. This feeling makes you want to move to get relief.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Being unable to go to sleep is the biggest problem with restless legs syndrome (RLS). When RLS keeps you up at night, you keep getting more and more tired. And being overly tired can make your RLS even worse.

But many people are able to get a good night's sleep most nights by making a few changes in their habits. For example, getting regular exercise and drinking less caffeine can help with sleep.

Even with restless legs syndrome, some changes in your habits may help you sleep better.

Test Your Knowledge

Daily habits can affect my sleep.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Getting regular exercise and drinking less caffeine can help with sleep.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Getting regular exercise and drinking less caffeine can help with sleep.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

If your RLS symptoms are mild, you may be able to get a good night's sleep most nights by making some changes in your lifestyle. Make sure to follow these general sleep tips:

During the day

  • Don't drink liquids that have caffeine (coffee, tea, some sodas), especially 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Don't use tobacco, especially near bedtime or if you wake up during the night. Nicotine is a stimulant, which means it makes you more alert and more awake.
  • Don't drink alcohol late in the evening.
  • Get regular exercise, but don't exercise within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime.
  • Get plenty of sunlight in the outdoors, especially in late afternoon.

At bedtime

  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. A light snack may help you sleep.
  • Don't go to bed thirsty, but don't drink so much that you have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom.
  • Set aside time for solving problems earlier in the day so you don't carry anxious thoughts to bed. Try writing down your worries in a "worry book," and then set it aside well before bedtime.
  • Do relaxing activities before bedtime. Try deep breathing, yoga, meditation, tai chi, or muscle relaxation techniques. Take a warm bath. Play a quiet game, or read a book.

During the night

  • Reduce noise in the house, or mask it with a steady, low noise such as a fan running on slow speed or a radio tuned to static. Use comfortable earplugs if you need to.
  • Keep the room cool and dark. If you can't darken the room, use a sleep mask.
  • Use a pillow and a mattress that are comfortable for you.
  • If watching the clock makes you anxious about sleep, turn the clock so you can't see it, or put it in a drawer.
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sex. A bit of light reading may help you fall asleep, but if it doesn't, do your reading elsewhere in the house. Don't watch TV in bed.
  • If you can't fall asleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and don't get back to sleep quickly, get out of bed and go to another room until you feel sleepy.

Daily habits

  • Regular exercise is important, but very hard workouts may make your symptoms worse. Try to figure out what level of exercise works for your symptoms and at what point exercise makes them worse.
  • Bathing in very hot or very cold water before bedtime may help. Or try using a heating pad or ice bag. Some people find that having a heated mattress pad on the bed helps.
  • Change your sleep schedule. If your symptoms usually get better around 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., try going to bed later than usual or allowing extra time for sleeping in to help you get the rest you need.
  • You may be able to control your symptoms by gently stretching and massaging your limbs before bed or as discomfort begins.

If your symptoms don't get better, talk to your doctor. He or she may prescribe drugs to control your RLS and help you sleep.

Test Your Knowledge

When I am tossing and turning, unable to sleep, I should stay in bed until I fall asleep.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    If you are tossing and turning, you should not stay in bed until you fall asleep. You need to establish the bed as a place for sleep, not sleeplessness. If you aren't asleep within 15 or 20 minutes, go to another room and do a quiet activity like reading until you are sleepy.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    If you are tossing and turning, you should not stay in bed until you fall asleep. By staying in bed, you are connecting the bed with sleeplessness. If you aren't asleep within 15 or 20 minutes, go to another room and do a quiet activity like reading until you are sleepy.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to find ways to get more sleep.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions, take this information with you when you visit your doctor. Your doctor may have more suggestions on how you can sleep better.

If you would like more information on restless legs syndrome, the following resources are available:

Organizations

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD  20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nhlbi.nih.gov
 

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

  • Diseases affecting the heart and circulation, such as heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and heart problems present at birth (congenital heart diseases).
  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, sleep apnea, and pneumonia.
  • Diseases that affect the blood, such as anemia, hemochromatosis, hemophilia, thalassemia, and von Willebrand disease.

National Sleep Foundation
1010 North Glebe Road
Suite 310
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (703) 243-1697
Email: nsf@sleepfoundation.org
Web Address: www.sleepfoundation.org
 

The National Sleep Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, can provide you with brochures on sleep disorders and a list of accredited sleep disorder clinics.


Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
1530 Greenview Drive SW
Suite 210
Rochester, MN  55902
Phone: (507) 287-6465
Fax: (507) 287-6312
Email: rlsfoundation@rls.org
Web Address: www.rls.org
 

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with restless legs syndrome (RLS). General medical information and research updates are available online and through newsletters and special publications. The website has numerous links to support groups and resources for more information about the condition.


WE MOVE
5731 Mosholu Avenue
Bronx, NY  10471
Email: wemove@wemove.org
Web Address: www.wemove.org
 

WE MOVE is an Internet resource for movement disorder information. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to educating people about the latest treatment options for neurologic movement disorders. WE MOVE also has information on support groups and hosts discussions and chat rooms on the website.


Return to topic:

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Karin M. Lindholm, DO - Neurology
Last Revised March 8, 2013
Healthwise
Help
Healthwise Index

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.