Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders as an uncomfortable or unpleasant sensation in the legs along with an irresistible urge to move them. Since symptoms typically become more pronounced at night when a person is relaxing or attempting to sleep, RLS is classified as a sleeping disorder.
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It's estimated that seven to ten percent of people in the U.S. are affected with restless leg syndrome; that amounts to a lot of people not getting a good night's sleep! Without getting adequate sleep, you are prone to a wide variety of unpleasant and sometimes dangerous effects such as:
- Lack of alertness
- Daytime sleepiness
- Impaired memory
- Diminished brain function/clarity
- Decreased quality of life
- General health problems
If you suffer from RLS and wake up exhausted the next morning, here are three ways to ease your discomfort and be on your way to a better night's sleep!
Exercise and Relaxation
Regular, daily exercise can help alleviate symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Engaging in 30 to 60 minutes per day of light, non-strenuous activity such as walking, cycling, or yoga are recommended to lessen discomfort.
It's important to avoid excess activity or exercising too late in the day as it can exacerbate symptoms. Relaxing the muscles after exercising and regularly throughout the day is also beneficial to those with RLS; things such as lower leg massage, leg stretches, and warm baths have been known to help symptoms.
By creating a relaxing environment and reducing stress and tension several hours before bed, you can help set yourself up for a successful, peaceful night's sleep free from RLS symptoms.
Heat and Cold Therapy
Alternating between hot and cold compresses can help alleviate uncomfortable twitching and aching sensations in the legs caused by RLS. Through the fluctuation of temperature and the pressure of the compresses, you can reduce muscle strain and inflammation, which relaxes the legs and can cause RLS symptoms. Moist heat is preferable to dry heat, so using steam towels or heating packs along with cold gel packs will give you the best results.
Be sure to test the temperature before applying any compresses, especially if you tend to have loss of sensation/temperature where they are being applied. If your compresses are too hot they can cause skin damage; likewise with cold compresses, limit usage to 15 minutes or less and always use a wrap or towel so it isn't directly on your skin.
Comfortable Sleep Environment
Since restless leg syndrome can hinder healthy sleep, it's important to create a comfortable environment that promotes restful sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, creating a sleep-friendly space can be done by making several simple changes.
- Dimming the lights before you go to sleep will prepare your mind and body and help you relax. Additionally, keeping your sleeping area dark will help your body fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
- Creating a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere free of clutter and distraction such as work-related tasks or electronics.
- Keep your room at a cool temperature; most people's temperatures are elevated at night so keeping your sleeping environment between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 67 degrees is optimal for healthy sleep.
- Choose a comfortable mattress, pillow, and sheets/blankets. Ensuring your mattress is the proper firmness/softness, having a supportive pillow, and clean, comfortable sheets and blankets will keep your body comfortable throughout the night, reducing the times you wake to readjust your position or change blankets.
- Reduce noises and external stimuli by investing in blackout curtains or a noise machine if there's distracting outside noise. Running a fan can also drown out noises that may be keeping you awake.
Restless leg syndrome is an uncomfortable but manageable condition that many people suffer from. By following these steps, consulting with your doctor, and having support from family, you can manage your symptoms and continue getting a restful night's sleep.
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