by Bradley Gillespie, PharmD
If you have never suffered from Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), then it's difficult to understand just how dramatically this condition can affect those who do. RLS can affect the ability of an individual to relax, fall asleep and stay asleep.
The medical community is not entirely sure what causes RLS and there is currently no cure. Millions of people suffer from the condition every day, and its impacts can go far deeper than just losing a good night’s sleep. In fact, getting a good night’s sleep is often something those with RLS have all but given up on. I know, because I have suffered with this syndrome for much of my life. As a boy it was difficult for me to sit still for long periods of time; often I would lie awake for hours trying to get my legs to stop tingling. Over the years, I have developed some habits that have offered some degree of relief when it comes to getting a good night's sleep. I would like to share these with you in the hopes that they may help you or someone you know who suffers from RLS.
I don’t know why this works, but for me it does. I have found that 10 to 15 minutes of stretching my legs before bedtime significantly reduces the occurrence of RLS. In all the research I have done on the subject, there is nothing I have found to support why this should work, but then, there is very little known about effective treatment options to begin with. While stretching, focus specifically on targeting the areas of your legs that are most prone to the sensation. For me, that is the area behind my knees. I find stretching my hamstrings and calf muscles is quite effective.
In my experience, the onset of RLS happens most frequently when I am physically exhausted or have been on my feet for many hours. When my legs begin to ache during the day, I know I am in for a rough night. The answer for me is to try to mitigate fatigue as much as possible. This is quite difficult in a busy world, but I have found that there are things I can do. For example, I might take a nap on my lunch hour, or right before dinner. I take the time to relax during the day and get off my feet if at all possible. I also invested in a good pair of shoes with sufficient padding and arch support. Anything that minimizes leg fatigue seems to help.
For years, I would lie in bed and fight against the symptoms. I have since learned that it is better to get up and move around for a few minutes, rather than lying in bed. For some reason, when I get up and walk around, go to the bathroom, or even just sit on the couch for a few minutes, I am then able to and lie back down and fall asleep. Some people believe that RLS is due to a problem with circulation. If that is even true for some, it might be the reason that moving around a bit can help. Getting the blood pumping again before lying down seems to be effective for some people, and I know it is for me.
While all of these techniques may not work for you, I encourage you to give them a try. I have found that often one will work better than another for a little while, and then there is a need to change things up. I know that RLS is quite distressing, and hopefully my experience can bring some relief to you. Using these tips in conjunction with Calm Legs to work on other solutions at the same time just makes sense. A combination of strategies will help you find some relief from restless legs.
Restless Legs sufferer Bradley Gillespie, PharmD, is trained as a clinical pharmacist and has practiced in an industrial setting for the past 20-plus years. Currently, he supports efforts at the National Institutes of Health to develop therapeutics for rare and neglected diseases. He remains a registered pharmacist and operates a medical writing business.