Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes an overwhelming urge to move your legs when you’re at rest. It’s often accompanied by unpleasant sensations, such as creeping, pulling, tingling, burning, achy, or itchy feelings. Such feelings can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay that way. And that makes it hard to function the next day.
The good news? You can often minimize the misery by making the right lifestyle choices—and avoiding the wrong ones. Many people who have RLS find that lifestyle changes and medication, if needed, provide relief from most symptoms. Help yourself to a healthier life and better sleep by following these six “don’ts”:
1.Don’t smoke or overdo alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol often trigger or worsen RLS symptoms. It’s especially important to avoid cigarettes and nightcaps close to bedtime, because they make it harder to get a restful night’s sleep. If you’re having trouble quitting smoking or cutting back on alcohol, ask your doctor about treatments that can help.
2. Don’t consume caffeine late in the day. Caffeine has an alerting effect that can last for hours, disrupting sleep. If you drink coffee, tea, or cola, have your last cup six to eight hours before bed.
3. Don’t pack on extra pounds. A 2009 study in the journal Neurology found that both obesity and belly fat increased the risk of having RLS. The link may be dopamine, a brain chemical that’s crucial for controlling movement. Some studies suggest that people who are obese have fewer dopamine receptors in the brain. Scientists also believe that RLS is related to abnormal dopamine activity. If you’re overweight, healthy eating and physical activity can help you take off excess pounds.
4. Don’t eat a poorly balanced diet. RLS symptoms are sometimes related to an underlying iron or vitamin deficiency, so a nutrient-rich diet is essential. Your doctor might also recommend an iron, vitamin B12, or folate supplement. If so, be sure to take it as directed.
5. Don’t keep an erratic sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, promotes better sleep. If your schedule allows, you might find that you sleep best when you go to bed and get up a bit later than the average person. If you have trouble falling asleep at bedtime, a relaxing ritual—such as meditating, getting a massage, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music—may help.
6. Don’t sit still too long when traveling. Make frequent rest stops in the car. Or choose an aisle seat on the plane so you can get up and move around. Also, avoid traveling late in the day, when RLS symptoms tend to be worse. If you can’t avoid prolonged sitting, take your mind off symptoms by concentrating on something else, such as a gripping novel, in-flight movie, or video game.