Though nearly 12 million Americans suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome, there’s still a lack of knowledge and awareness about this curious sleep disorder. A nemesis of sleep, rest, and nightly peace of mind, RLS is a neurological disorder that impacts our senses and motion.
But what causes it? And what are some natural ways to fight off the frustrating feelings that come with it? We’ll examine what we know about RLS, and give you our best tips to relieve the restless sensations and get better sleep, the natural way. (Hint: a weighted blanket is the perfect place to start!)
What Is RLS?
RLS is characterized by a strong urge to move our legs when we’re in a resting position, especially after going to bed. Many people say the restlessness feels like tickling or twitchy sensations in their legs, which is temporarily relieved by moving, stretching, or by getting out of bed and walking around.
Others describe RLS as a feeling of mild electric shocks, burning, itching, crawling, tugging, or even the feeling of “an aerated drink running in the veins”. Unpleasant, to say the least. Our natural reflex to combat these sensations is to move our legs restlessly, hence the name of the syndrome.
RLS generally comes on during the evening hours. As the sun sets and you decide to rest and relax, RLS goes into activation mode and the creepy crawling feelings begin.
But in general, a lack of physical activity at any time can bring on the symptoms of RLS, so it’s not just during sleep that it tends to strike. Any kind of sedentariness - like long plane or car rides, sitting in a theatre for a concert, or an especially long wait at the doctor’s office - can cause RLS to kick into gear.
If you find it torturous to maintain composure while sitting in confined spaces for long hours, there is a high probability you have RLS.
Because the feelings RLS can cause tend to vary person to person, many of those suffering from this disorder are unaware that their problem even has a proper name. By recognizing we have a condition, we’re in a much better position to address and relieve it.
We’ve shed some light on the symptoms, so let’s talk about what causes Restless Legs Syndrome.
What Causes RLS?
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many hard and fast rules as to what causes this sleep disorder. Commonly, people over 45 years of age complain of RLS, but it can happen to anyone at any stage of life, even childhood. Studies have shown that females are twice as likely to develop RLS than males.
In a large number of cases, there’s no apparent cause of RLS. However, there are some underlying links that researchers have found over the years.
Several genetic links have been found for RLS, meaning it can be inherited across generations in families. So if you’re suffering from this sleep disorder, there’s a great chance that it runs in your genes.
One of the most widely talked about perpetrators of RLS is a chemical called dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for carrying signals from the body to the brain. Dopamine plays a crucial role in controlling physical movements as well as emotional responses, so the right balance of dopamine is required for a fit mind and body. If your dopamine levels are imbalanced, it could result in RLS.
RLS experienced during pregnancy is often associated with hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, discomfort, deficiency of vitamins and minerals, and a heightened sensitivity of the senses. Onset RLS during pregnancy will usually resolve within weeks of delivery.
Existing health conditions
RLS is sometimes an outcome of another health condition that you’re suffering from. This condition is known as secondary RLS. Anaemia caused by iron deficiency, diabetes, and kidney failure can cause RLS.
Some Natural Ways To Treat RLS
The biggest danger with RLS is that it can severely disrupt your sleep cycles, which can then negatively impact many other parts of your life, like your mental health.
The fact that there are no tried-and-tested, universal treatments for RLS can feel disheartening, but some simple self-care solutions and lifestyle changes have been shown to relieve symptoms, so let’s look a bit closer at some of these remedies.
Change your habits
Like a lot of other health issues, modifying our daily habits can help ease chronic conditions. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy sleep pattern (our weighted blankets can certainly help with that!), and cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can be very helpful.
The practice of yoga inherently focuses on breathing and stretching, which can calm nerves and sooth your senses, and keep you physically fit. Including yoga in your daily regimen can help reduce the impact of RLS. (Namaste!)
Use relaxation techniques
Breathing exercises and meditating before going to bed help combat stress and anxiety. Such relaxing techniques not only help in eliminating symptoms of sleep disorders like RLS, but boost your overall physical and mental wellbeing.
Get your iron and magnesium
Iron deficiency can be one of the causes of RLS. Apples, honey, dates, and pomegranates are some natural and rich sources of iron. As a natural muscle relaxant, magnesium can help to cope with RLS as well. Bananas, avocados, legumes, tofu, seeds, and fatty fish are packed with magnesium. Include nuts and greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and peas in your diet, as they are loaded with both magnesium and iron.
Avoid sugar and sodium before bed
Consuming dairy, caffeine, and foods loaded with sugar and sodium is a big no before bedtime. They activate and worsen the symptoms of RLS. So, think twice before you decide to binge on junk food before calling it a day!
Stretch those muscles
Performing mild stretching exercises before going to bed can help you avoid the symptoms of RLS to a great extent.
Create a sleep-friendly environment
To cope with any kind of sleep disorder, it’s crucial to focus on factors like sleep hygiene and sleep environment; you’ve got to create a cool, comfortable and cosy vibe!
Blue light from mobile phones, tablets, and televisions mess up your melatonin production and delay your sleep, so avoid using them at least half an hour before heading to bed. Fluorescent bulbs have a similar effect - they’re one of many things that can sabotage your sleep.
Use a weighted blanket
Weighted blankets have been shown to relieve the unpleasant symptoms of RLS. This comes down to something called Deep Touch Pressure therapy, which happens when you place evenly-distributed weight over your body, triggering pressure points that help in the production of some key relaxation and sleep hormones.
Dreamy, buttery softness
Calms body & mind for deeper sleep
Hand-knitted huggable comfortIt's Napper Time
The hand-knitted weaves of our best weighted Bearaby Nappers completely cocoon your body, producing a “hugging effect” that promotes the release of serotonin, a stress-relieving chemical produced by our nerve cells. Increased serotonin not only promotes feelings of calmness, it also leads to the release of more melatonin, our sleep hormone. This chemical flood helps you quickly calm down and drift off into dreamland.
Weighted blankets also reduce cortisol levels throughout the night. High cortisol - often called our stress hormone - has also been linked to RLS, so when those unpleasant sensations start creeping up at night, pull on a Napper and let the weight work its magic.
How Weighted Blankets Can Help Restless Legs Syndrome
We’ll examine what we know about RLS, and give you our best tips to relieve the restless sensations and get better sleep, the natural way.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes an impulse to move our legs because of uneasy sensations like twitching or tingling, which amplify during nighttime.
A neurological disorder that impacts over 7-8% of the global population, Restless Legs Syndrome is a common sleep disorder that’s not often talked about because of a lack of awareness about it. About 2-3% of people with RLS experience symptoms strong enough to interfere with their quality of life.
Adopting healthy sleeping habits and several lifestyle changes can help in reducing the impact of RLS. Weighted blankets can relieve the symptoms by releasing serotonin and decreasing cortisol levels, which calm our nerves and relieve the pain and discomfort of RLS.
Did you know?
Restless Legs Syndrome affects more people than type 2 diabetes. Despite being a common health condition, it is unheard of by a majority of people, even those suffering from it.