As the evening hours approach, you find yourself yearning to lay down, relax, and perhaps finally get some rest. It’s been a long day, after all.
Yet, you know it’ll be nearly impossible. It won’t be long after sitting or lying that your leg will start to interrupt your chill time. That never-ending creeping-crawling sensation from your foot, up to your calf, and through the leg, you know will keep you from getting any sleep tonight.
It seems this has been your reality for years now, and maybe it has been. “It’s a reality you’ll just have to learn to live with,” you tell yourself.
What you’re experiencing could be a condition known as restless leg syndrome (RLS) or Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), and there are numerous natural approaches you can take to relieve and manage your symptoms. A good night’s rest is no longer an unattainable dream.
Keep reading to learn all you need to know about RLS and how to get it under control.
What Is Restless Leg Syndrome
“RLS as a one of the most intriguing chronic sensory-motor disorders is frequently unrecognized, misdiagnosed and poorly managed. Awareness about RLS is poor among medical professionals.”
– Dr. Mehdi Zobeiri,1 MD, Physician at Kermanshah University of Medical Science, Iran
Restless leg syndrome is still a very perplexing condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. This urge is more present when immobile for a long time and most commonly occurs in the evening or night, but may also come about during long periods of sitting, such as a commute.
Restless leg syndrome currently falls under three classifications:
- A neurological sensory disorder – Specialists believe RLS is related to brain dysfunction in how it uses dopamine,2 a critical neurotransmitter involved in nerve cell communication to produce muscle movement and activity.
There is proof of unique changes in the brains of RLS patients. One study3 found people with RLS had a 7.5 percent decrease in brain tissue thickness within the area of the brain that processes sensations and a large decrease in where nerve fibers connect one side of the brain to the other, compared to the healthy participants.
Another study4 found glutamate — a neurotransmitter responsible for the initiation and maintenance of sleep/wake cycles5— at abnormally high levels in those with RLS. The more glutamate, the worse their sleep.
- A sleep disorder – The symptoms flare up when resting and attempting to sleep. Sleep deprivation is the most health-deteriorating side effect of RLS.
- A movement disorder – The sensations caused by RLS force the individual to involuntarily move the body part to obtain relief.
What Does Restless Leg Syndrome Feel Like?
People that suffer from RLS report sensation from within the limb and can feel like crawling, creeping, aching, throbbing, pulling, itching, numbness, and electric.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
Though the exact cause for RLS is still unknown, specialists believe the condition may be linked to any of the following:
- Genes – In some cases, it can be inherited.6 It’s common for patients to have a family history of RLS.
- Iron – Low level of iron7 in the brain is common among RLS patients
- Magnesium deficiency – Links have been found between magnesium deficiency8 in patients with RLS. Magnesium deficiency can cause problems with nerve impulse conduction, muscle contractions, and muscle cramps.
- Peripheral neuropathy – there is an increased prevalence of RLS in peripheral neuropathy9 patients.
- Pregnancy – Some women develop RLS during pregnancy,10 typically in the third trimester. Symptoms usually disappear after giving birth.
What Triggers Restless Leg Syndrome?
RLS symptoms can increase or be triggered by many different situations. Knowing what those are can help you better manage this condition. The most common triggers are:
- Immobility for long periods of time
- Strenuous exercise or even too much exercise
- Stress and low levels of cortisol
- Caffeine and caffeinated products such as energy drinks, chocolate, tea, and soft drinks
- Heavy sugars, any product that is loaded with sugars
- Medications such as weight loss pills, antidepressants, antihistamines for colds and allergies
How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosed?
There is not a specific test11 to diagnose RLS. Therefore, a medical practitioner will focus on the patient’s symptoms, triggers, patterns in the day, and what brings relief for diagnosis.
Some physicians may refer the patient to a sleep doctor and request a test to determine if there is muscle movement or twitching while asleep. As well, a neurological exam may be performed. However, it is not common.
Restless Leg Syndrome Self Test
RLS is a common condition affecting up to 10%12 of the US population. Yet, it is largely underdiagnosed. There are a few questions that, if you answer yes to, could mean you have RLS and not know it. Here is a simple self-test questionnaire much like a doctor may ask:
- Do you get a strong, irresistible urge to move your legs, normally accompanied by uncomfortable sensations?
- Do your symptoms start or get worse when you’re resting, sitting, or lying down?
- Are your symptoms partially or temporarily relieved by movement, such as walking or stretching?
- Do your symptoms become worse in the evening or at night?
If you said yes to all of the above, you could be experiencing RLS. The good news is, there are countless ways to manage your symptoms without medication, which are completely natural.
How To Stop Restless Leg Syndrome Immediately?
The most practical form to bring immediate relief to your symptoms is movement. You can shake your limb, stretch, pace around the room, or even go for a short walk (just make sure it is on a smooth surface so you don’t further aggravate your RLS condition.
What Is The Best Natural Treatment For Restless Leg Syndrome?
Many patients affected by RLS are able to manage their symptoms without turning to prescription drugs.
One natural and effective way is supplementing with magnesium. Magnesium is an essential nutrient required to perform over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and is present in every cell.
Studies have found magnesium supplementation to be an effective treatment13 for patients with RLS.
Magnesium And Restless Leg Syndrome
Magnesium plays very diverse roles in the body. There are different forms of magnesium, and each plays a vital role, which is what makes magnesium a great option to effectively relieve14 RLS symptoms.
Let’s break down the different forms in which magnesium can be a powerful aid:
- Nerve cells and brain function – As previously mentioned, RLS is a disorder dealing with the brain. Magnesium plays an essential role15 in nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Magnesium aspartate especially improves communication between nerve cells and muscles.
- Sleep – One side effect of RLS is insomnia or poor sleep. People suffering from RLS may take more than 30 minutes16 to fall asleep, and those with severe cases get an average of 5 hours17 of sleep per night. Magnesium is well known to help a person to relax and is widely used to render more restful sleep.18 Studies on RLS patients found magnesium improved insomnia.19
- Muscle – RLS can cause involuntary twitching. Magnesium can help muscles relax and block calcium to prevent over-stimulation of muscle nerves, which trigger contractions. Magnesium chelate is important for muscle building, recovery, and overall health.
- Mood – The lack of sleep can make you feel fatigued, and the uncomfortable sensations can put you in a bad mood. Some RLS patients even develop depression. Magnesium has been shown to have a positive effect on fatigue20 and improve mood.
And, if your RLS is due to a magnesium deficiency, a magnesium supplement can truly be the best option for you.
Since there are many forms of magnesium, it is critical to choose a supplement that provides you with all seven forms of magnesium, such as Magnesium Breakthrough®. This way, you can be sure to nourish your body at a cellular level and enjoy all the benefits, some of which are:
- Reduced stress levels, a feeling of relaxation and peace
- Sleep faster and deeper
- Boost your immune system
- Maintain normal heart rhythm
- Build strong bones
Foods With Magnesium
You can also add more magnesium-rich foods to your diet. Foods rich in magnesium include:
- Almonds – provide 75 mg of magnesium per serving, 19% of the daily recommended intake, and high in protein, dietary fiber, and healthy fats.
- Avocados – are rich in magnesium and antioxidants, so you can enjoy its anti-aging benefits.
- Bananas – are high in potassium and magnesium. Both of which will aid in optimal muscle contraction and health.
- Black Beans – are a good source of magnesium and also protein, which the muscle needs to rebuild.
- Spinach – is considered a superfood rich in magnesium. One cup of spinach that you eat will give you almost 40% of the total daily needs.
- Swiss chard – is rich in magnesium and other vital nutrients contributing to muscle and skeletal health.
- Pumpkin seeds – an eighth cup of pumpkin seeds will give you about 25% of your total daily magnesium needs.
- Yogurt – is rich in magnesium and will also give you amazing gut health benefits thanks to the probiotics in it.
Home Remedies For Restless Leg Syndrome
Other home remedies people with RLS have had success with are:
- A massage
- A bath with warm Epsom salts
- Cold or heat pads
Restless leg syndrome is definitely a complex condition affecting the lives of many. I hope the information we shared today can help you manage your symptoms so you can enjoy life at its fullest.
Please consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new supplement, diet, or training program, or if you are undergoing treatment for a medical condition.
- Quotes from Medical Professionals about RLS. (n.d.-b). Rlcure.Com. http://www.rlcure.com/what-medical-professionals-are-saying-about-restless-legs-syndrome.html
2. Schwarz, P. B., & Peever, J. H. (2011). Dopamine triggers skeletal muscle tone by activating D1-like receptors on somatic motoneurons. Journal of neurophysiology, 106(3), 1299–1309. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00230.2011
3. American Academy of Neurology. (2018, April 25). Brain structure linked to symptoms of restless legs syndrome. ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180425162023.htm
4. Restless Legs Syndrome, Insomnia And Brain Chemistry: A Tangled Mystery Solved? (2013). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/restless_legs_syndrome_insomnia_and_brain_chemistry_a_tangled_mystery_solved#:%7E:text=Neurologists%20have%20long%20believed%20RLS,purposeful%20muscle%20activity%20and%20movement.
5. Korenic, S. A., Klingaman, E. A., Wickwire, E. M., Gaston, F. E., Chen, H., Wijtenburg, S. A., & Rowland, L. M. (2020). Sleep quality is related to brain glutamate and symptom severity in schizophrenia. Journal of psychiatric research, 120, 14–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2019.10.006
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8. Popoviciu, L., Aşgian, B., Delast-Popoviciu, D., Alexandrescu, A., Petruţiu, S., & Bagathal, I. (1993). Clinical, EEG, electromyographic and polysomnographic studies in restless legs syndrome caused by magnesium deficiency. Romanian journal of neurology and psychiatry = Revue roumaine de neurologie et psychiatrie, 31(1), 55–61.
9. Anderson, J. C., Fritz, M. L., Benson, J. M., & Tracy, B. L. (2017). Nerve Decompression and Restless Legs Syndrome: A Retrospective Analysis. Frontiers in neurology, 8, 287. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2017.00287
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14. Marshall, N. S., Serinel, Y., Killick, R., Child, J. M., Raisin, I., Berry, C. M., Lallukka, T., Wassing, R., Lee, R. W., Ratnavadivel, R., Vedam, H., Grunstein, R., Wong, K. K., Hoyos, C. M., Cayanan, E. A., Comas, M., Chapman, J. L., & Yee, B. J. (2019). Magnesium supplementation for the treatment of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder: A systematic review. Sleep medicine reviews, 48, 101218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2019.101218
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