Restless Legs Syndrome afflicts up to 10% of America's population. It's a neurologic disorder that can result in sleep deprivation, anxiety, and even depression. Get-Fit Guy has 10 easy tips for reducing your RLS symptoms so you can get back to sleep.
Lately, I’ve been getting into Bikram yoga. In case you’re not familiar with this style of yoga, allow me to explain: it involves about 90 minutes of intense sweating in a room at about 100-110o as you move your body through a series of exercises. Perhaps I’m not used to that amount of fluid and electrolyte loss, or perhaps I’m simply using new muscles I haven’t used before, but last night, several hours after a particularly rigorous Bikram session, I abruptly woke to horrible cramps in both my hamstrings and calves..
For what seemed like forever, I writhed in discomfort and clenched my teeth as I tried to relax and massage away the cramps on both legs. Finally, I alleviated the cramps, got out of bed, and drank an enormous glass of water and sea salt. The next morning, I was still sore from the spasms.
Believe it or not, some people (perhaps even you!) deal with these types of frustrating and extremely uncomfortable cramps, spasms, and twitches nearly every night. They are often seized by an uncontrollable urge to move their legs, their legs actually twitch or jerk, and they experience the sensation of something squirming or wiggling under their skin. This is called Restless Legs Syndrome, RLS, and it can result in sleep deprivation, anxiety, and even depression.
So in this episode you’re going to learn my 10 quick and dirty tips to help lessen the symptoms of RLS.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless Legs Syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects as many as 12 million people in America alone! The restless symptoms usually strike when you’re lying in bed at night, but in more serious cases, can also flare up in the daytime, such as when you’re sitting for a long period of time. Often, you experience a feeling of tingling, aching, itching, or tugging deep beneath the skin of your lower legs - and sometimes even in the thighs, feet, hands, and arms too.
Medical research still indicates that this is a condition shrouded in mystery – and it seems to be accompanied by lots of other co-factors, such as heart, lung, and kidney disorders, circulatory problems, arthritis, dietary deficiencies (such as magnesium) or dietary excesses (such as caffeine).
The following 10 Quick and Dirty Tips are designed to help you combat the problem of Restless Legs Syndrome and nighttime (or daytime) leg cramps.....
How to Reduce Your RLS Symptoms
1. Move. Easy to moderate exercise can help alleviate restless legs, but excessive exercise with lots of sweating and hard muscle contractions can aggravate symptoms. So, for example, a morning weight training session or an evening post-dinner brisk walk at a moderate pace can help. If you’re going to do much harder exercise than that, then be sure to get it done several hours before bedtime, and be sure to follow some of the other tips you’re about to discover, such as hydrating and de-stressing afterwards.
2. Reduce caffeine consumption. Coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate (yes, sorry – I said chocolate), sodas, and even sports supplements and over-the-counter medications can all contain caffeine. Try cutting these substances out of your diet or substituting decaffeinated varieties – especially after noon. Ideally, you should also avoid smoking and tobacco, which contains another RLS culprit - the stimulant nicotine.
3. Hydrate. Sometimes, RLS can be aggravated by a lack of water. In addition to avoiding diuretics such as the caffeine sources listed above, you may also want to avoid nighttime alcohol intake, and drink liberal amounts of sparkling water, filtered water, or decaffeinated teas throughout the day.
4. Try hot-cold contrast therapy. Increased cardiovascular blood flow can also help with Restless Legs Syndrome symptoms. Sometime in the 2-3 hours before bed, try a 5 minute shower alternating 20 seconds of cold water followed by 10 seconds of warm water. Once you’ve finished, stand under the warm water for another couple of minutes to relax your nervous system.
5. Reduce stress. Daily stress can cause headaches, jaw tightness, shoulder tightness, neck pain, and – you guessed it – restless legs. I’d highly recommend you review my article Top 7 Ways to Reduce Stress, which includes techniques such as breathing, meditation, yoga (just be careful with that Bikram stuff) and simply not working too late at night.
6. Increase electrolyte intake. Cramping can be caused by chronic depletion of precious minerals such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, or any of the other 80 minerals that are crucial to muscle function and relaxation. While you shouldn’t necessarily slam a sugary Gatorade every day, you should consider using natural electrolyte and mineral sources, such as trace liquid minerals, Himalayan sea salts, or even fruits and vegetables grown in organic, mineral rich soil. Some companies now make naturally flavored effervescent electrolyte tablets that can easily be dissolved in a daily glass of water.
7. Apply transdermal magnesium. Magnesium can be absorbed through your skin and help to displace the calcium ions that can cause muscle cramping and restlessness. My two favorite ways to use magnesium are to A) use a topical magnesium lotion and B) to do a magnesium salts soak, which is very similar to an Epsom salts bath. You can read more about these two strategies here.
8. Stretch. Tight muscles and tight fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds groups of muscle) can both cause cramping and restless legs. In addition to the alternative therapies such as deep tissue massage (which you’ll hear more about later), I’d recommend beginning each day with a light morning stretch routine, implementing a handful of short or long yoga sessions each week, or simply going out of you way before bed at night to stretch your feet and stretch your calves – which can easily be accomplished by simply putting your feet against the wall and leaning into them with your ankles bent so that your toes are pointing up. You’ll get a better stretch if you do this one leg at a time.
9. Wear compression socks. Yes, wearing those funny-looking “old person” socks can actually improve your symptoms. There are a variety of calf length compression socks that you can find, made by companies such as Under Armour, Skins, and 110% Compression – or you can simply go to your local medical supplies store and grab a generic version. Pull these on before bed and you’ll not only notice less propensity for cramping, but your legs will feel less “heavy” when you wake up in the morning.
10. Try alternative therapies. Acupuncture may help relieve your symptoms of RLS. In addition, deep tissue massage therapy that targets the lower body, hips, and legs could also help. If you can’t arrange or afford massage, then try a foam roller .
I’m now using all of the strategies listed above after my Bikram yoga to ensure I don’t wake up at night with restless legs! Finally, if you have more questions about how to improve your Restless Leg Syndrome symptoms, then leave your comments, thoughts, and questions over at http://www.Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!
And check out more on QDT's Restless Legs Syndrome homepage: quickanddirtytips.com/rls