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.
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 plenty of sunlight in the outdoors, especially in late afternoon.
- 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.
- 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 hot or 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.
- 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.
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Karin M. Lindholm DO - Neurology