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By Tara Youngblood · Sep 29, 2021
Have you heard of restless legs syndrome (RLS) before?
RLS makes it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep -- and the hallmark symptom is a sensation deep in the legs. RLS sufferers describe very uncomfortable symptoms, using terms like creeping, itching, pulling, crawling, tugging, throbbing, burning, pins and needles, or gnawing.
In addition to disrupted and disjointed sleep patterns, RLS can also cause daytime sleepiness, cognitive issues, and lack of focus. Studies show that RLS may affect up to 10 percent of the population.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has researched who is most likely to suffer from this frustrating sleep condition. While restless legs syndrome can sometimes be caused by iron deficiency, end-stage renal disease, or the use of certain medications, the NIH has reported that sleep deprivation may actually aggravate or trigger RLS symptoms.
What this means is so interesting to me as a sleep scientist! Because what the NIH is saying is that the root cause of RLS is sometimes not caused by anything “specific” -- bad sleep may be the trigger!
Sleep experts at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine have created a list of possible RLS-related symptoms and other questions to ask yourself:
If your RLS is mild or moderate, and you want to treat RLS naturally, you should consider making small changes to your sleep routine. Here I’ve put together four unique strategies to minimize and manage your restless legs syndrome symptoms.
While restless legs syndrome treatment is still evolving, a Mayo Clinic study found magnesium was an effective form of natural therapy. That's definitely worth noting, since other studies have shown that approximately 48% of Americans do not meet their dietary requirements of magnesium.
How does magnesium improve sleep and RLS symptoms, exactly? It's a bit science-heavy but bear with me!
Magnesium helps in regulating something known as “gamma-aminobutyric acid” -- or GABA -- an important amino acid that plays a key role in your overall sleep health. One of the primary functions of GABA is to help your brain power down for the night, helping you relax, de-stress, and ultimately, fall asleep. Put simply, magnesium helps your body maintain healthy levels of GABA, allowing for more restorative sleep. This calming ritual is a natural boost to your circadian rhythm, too.
For simple ways to add more magnesium in your diet, add green leafy vegetables (spinach, collard greens), legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Magnesium is also added to some breakfast cereals and other fortified foods. Another low-fat and delicious breakfast idea? Try oatmeal, bananas, blackberries, and skim milk -- all are excellent and delicious sources of magnesium!
You may also want to ask your healthcare provider if magnesium supplementation for your restless legs syndrome treatment is safe to try.
For example, some find relief using epsom salt baths before bed, rubbing magnesium oil into the lower legs prior to bedtime, or taking magnesium citrate tablets.
Sleeping at cooler temperatures also plays a big role in sleep quality -- and temperature management can be a key component in managing the “feeling” of the nerves when suffering from RLS. After all, it's long been suggested that patients use a heating pad or ice packs on their legs as a way to treat RLS naturally.
Therefore, sleeping on a temperature-regulated cooling mattress pad can help to minimize the effects of RLS at night and trigger deep sleep.
Temperature changes and focusing on your sleep hygiene -- by creating a colder, darker sleep space -- is important for so many reasons and can bring about relief for RLS.
Here’s how to put cold sleep hacks into practice:
Did you know that CBD may also help restless legs syndrome?
According to a study by the Clinical Neurosciences Centre in Bordeaux, 84% of participants found CBD helped to calm the more immediate symptoms of RLS.
CBD products have been shown to bring your body into balance to sleep better, respond better, stress less, and recover better.
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before trying any CBD product, especially if you’re taking any medications. But for most people, CBD products are great when looking for sustainable, more organic alternatives.
One product I recommend is called Drops+ Sleep from a company called Plant People. Drops+ Sleep is a nighttime tincture, essentially an oil that you take to induce relaxation to promote sleep and suppress locomotor activity by activating GABA, CB1, and CB2 receptors.
“The key to our products is figuring out the balance, because each person will have a different response. Some are more or less sensitive. These are not sleeping pills in the traditional sense, so there’s a different expectation,” says Gabe Kennedy, founder of Plant People.
“There is sometimes an expectation that people will take a drop of oil and see results. What we have to get to is the root cause, and sometimes there’s a lot going on in your life. The western medicine mentality is treating the symptom, not the root cause,” he says.
“These plants are adaptable, and understanding how your body responds is very important. Plant medicines take time. The true benefits happen when you start committing to that every single day -- like you would with diet or meditation. The critical point is consistency -- give yourself grace and take stock of how you feel the following morning. That allows us to further understand whether you need more, or maybe need a little less,” he says.
As part of creating a consistent sleep ritual, Kennedy notes that it’s important to follow what we know works well -- and that includes your sleeping temperature.
“We sleep better at colder temperatures, disconnecting from devices, trying not to be around blue light...they all make a difference. Our plant-based solutions are effective, but when you can apply the other knowledge and learnings for effective sleep and recovery habits, that’s when the needle really moves,” he adds.
Last but not least, we are humans and we thrive on interaction. Connecting with people who truly understand can be so therapeutic!
I was thrilled to see that the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, which is the leading organization for science-based education and patient services for people suffering from RLS, has a great free option. Their virtual support meetings on Zoom are open to anyone interested in learning more about RLS and want a safe place to share their personal RLS sleep concerns and victories. To register, go to www.rls.org/VSG.
The organization also features some pretty great “first-person” stories, including a very honest and authentic article by a woman who shared that “to manage my restless legs syndrome, especially concurrently with menopause, I stay as cool as possible. I let my toes tingle a little with the cold. I wrap a blanket around my torso and let my legs stay cool.”
I know many of you suffering from night sweats can relate to that story, especially if you’re also battling other issues like menopause on top of RLS. As I’ve written before, if hot flashes or sweat-soaked sleep is keeping you up at night, the solution really is learning to cool it down!
People of any age, including children, might suffer from RLS. It typically occurs in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep.
In this post, we explored some lifestyle changes -- including the importance of sleeping colder -- to relieve frustrating sleepless nights due to restless legs syndrome.
ChiliSleep products (that act as a cooling mattress pad) are the best tools on the market to cool down your sleep environment and come with free U.S. shipping and a 30-night trial. Whether you try out the original Cube, the app-controlled OOLER sleep system, or the cooling weighted chiliBLANKET, there's an option for everyone.
In addition to finding ways to sleep cooler and improve your sleep environment, don’t forget to take time for yourself. Meditation, breath work, and stress breaks can seem like they are cutting into your time. But I challenge that thought. When you take the time you need to be peaceful, to sleep, and to find balance, you will get time back in the form of productivity.
Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy
Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.
Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.