It is another wonderful evening and it is a perfect time for you to relax after a tiresome day. But immediately you take a comfortable position on your couch, you start feeling an uncontrollable and overwhelming urge to move your legs. You remember that the previous night, you had read somewhere that those symptoms could be an indication that you have restless legs syndrome. You are now desperate to find a solution to this condition because you don’t want to spend another sleepless night. Your search reveals that weighted blankets are the best for easing the pain that results from restless leg syndrome. But you are left wondering how this condition came to be in the first place.
In this guide, we will go through everything you need to know about restless leg syndrome. We will also give you the best tips that you need to relieve the restless feeling and enable you to get back your most coveted sleep quality.
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease is a nervous system condition that causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. This is common during the evenings when resting or at night when you get to bed. This tickling and twitchy sensation stop temporarily when one gets out of bed and moves around.
Statistics show that up to 10% of US citizens suffer from RLS. Women are the most vulnerable despite the fact that it can affect everyone. The symptoms are more severe with middle-aged people or old age. These symptoms are most prevalent in the evening or at night when an individual is resting.
RLS can be a stubborn disease and doctors may fail to diagnose the disease especially if the symptoms are mild or the rate of occurrence is low. However, once it is diagnosed, treatment can help stop it.
People suffering from RLS may experience the Periodic Limb Movement in Sleep (PLMS) which is the involuntary jerking of legs and arms while asleep. Even though the disease is classified as a nervous system disorder, it can also be classified as a sleep disorder. This is because it causes severe sleep deprivation and may disrupt the sleep cycle.
Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms
The main symptom of RLS is the irresistible urge to move the legs. This urge to move the legs is triggered by an unusual feeling like itching, aching, throbbing, crawling, pulling, or presence of pins and needles in the legs. This sensation is not only restricted to legs but can be experienced in other areas like arms, chest, or head.
The RLS symptoms vary from mild to extreme. The symptoms may fluctuate and might be intense for some time only to disappear. Patients report extreme cases in the evening or at night.
The symptoms vary between individuals. The symptoms may vary on a daily basis. However, most patients report calmness early in the morning and this is the time where the victims of this disease get a deep sleep.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
There is no clear cause of RLS, however, scientists believe that the individual gene has a role to play. Most of the victims of RLS have a family member with the same condition. The disease is common to people aged above 45 years, but anyone at any stage in life is susceptible to the disease, even children. Research has shown that gender-wise, females are twice as likely to get the disease as compared to their male counterparts.
Despite the fact that the cause of RLS has never been determined, researchers over the years have found some underlying links. These include:
Research done on RLS has shown that several genetic links are available for RLS. This means that RLS can be inherited across generations in families. There are high chances that someone with this condition has another member of his/her family who was suffering from the disease before. This is an indication that the RLS disease runs in their genes.
Some of the RLS symptoms include certain long terms conditions such as iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, kidney failure or renal disease, and peripheral neuropathy. Patients with these long term conditions have often reported RLS at their point in time. This shows that there is a correlation between the disease and the long term conditions.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter chemical that carries signals from the body to the brain. This chemical is the most talked-about perpetrator of RLS. The role of dopamine in controlling physical movements and emotional responses makes it crucial in ensuring a fit mind and body. Hence, any imbalance in dopamine levels could result in RLS.
The use of some of the drugs worsens the symptoms of RLS. These drugs include some antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-nausea medicines, and cold and allergy drugs that have antihistamines.
Some women report RLS symptoms during their pregnancy period, especially during their trimester period. The disease reported during pregnancy is associated with hormonal fluctuations, discomfort, sleep deprivation, and deficiency in minerals and vitamins. The RLS symptoms during pregnancy often disappear within one month after delivery.
The symptoms of RLS are worsened by lack of sleep or another sleep disorder such as apnea. This is also evident in people who consume alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.
Primary versus Secondary Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome can be categorized into two: primary and secondary RLS.
In most cases of RLS, the cause of the condition cannot be determined by the doctor. These cases fall in the category of primary (idiopathic) RLS.
Unlike primary RLS, secondary RLS occurs as a result of another health condition. In most cases, it acts as a complication from the other health conditions. The most vulnerable to secondary RLS include those:
- patients suffering from anemia or iron deficiency
- With long-term health condition such as diabetes, kidney disease, or fibromyalgia
- That are pregnant
Secondary RLS often disappear once the underlying condition is abated. For example, if the patient suffering from iron deficiency consumes more iron in their diet and is successful to reverse their iron-deficient state, there are high chances that RLS will also disappear. The same is also through for pregnant women.
Cure for Restless Legs Syndrome
The treatment of RLS takes many forms, with mild conditions abated by simple home remedies while chronic may require a doctor’s attention. For the chronic types that require medication, there are several medications that come in handy for RLS.
Depending on the doctor’s prescription, there are drugs used to increase dopamine levels in the brain. These drugs include rotigotine (Neupro), pramipexole (Mirapex), and ropinirole (Requip).
Another prescription could be the medication that affects calcium channels. These medications are known to relieve symptoms of RLS and include pregabalin (Lyrica), gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant), and gabapentin (Neurontin).
Opioids can also be used as a medication for RLS. Opioids are essential narcotic medications. These drugs include combined acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin), combined acetaminophen and oxycodone (Percocet, Roxicet), oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone), and codeine.
Most of these drugs are addictive when used in large quantities. Therefore, experienced doctors avoid prescribing them to their patients unless it is their last resort.
Some doctors may also prescribe muscle relaxants and sleep medication for the patients whose sleep is severely distracted. Common sleep medication is clonazepam (Klonopin). However, this does not eliminate the urge to move your legs but may help you sleep better.
It is important to note that the use of medications to treat RLS can be a complex and time-consuming process. It will take the doctor a lot of trials to find the best medication and what works for you. The medications also have their side effects. For example, the use of medications to increase levels of dopamine may result in feeling nausea.
The Best Home Remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS can severely disrupt the sleep cycle and result in other sleep-related disorders. In most cases, the medications for treating RLS are only meant to alleviate its symptoms.
But what is the best treatment for restless leg syndrome?So you ask…
The best treatment for RLS can be found in home remedies. Some self-care solutions and home remedies have been known to work by reducing symptoms of RLS. The patients of RLS may have to try out some of these best home remedies to find out what works for them.
Change of Habits
Most health issues, RLS included are a result of poor habits that we inculcate into our life. Modifying our daily habits goes a long way in easing most of the chronic conditions. Some of the most fundamental habits that we neglect the most are regular exercise and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. A healthy sleep pattern can be achieved using a weighted blanket. Other habits include cutting down on alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
Yoga could be your best bet!
Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline that includes breath control, meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures and is widely practiced for health fitness and relaxation. The focus n breathing and stretching have the ability of calming nerves and soothing senses. Include yoga in your daily regimen and you are one step towards relieving the impact of RLS.
Use Relaxation Techniques before Bed
A simple technique such as meditation and breathing exercises just before going to bed can help eliminate anxiety and stress. This reduces the symptoms of RLS by a great extend giving you a peaceful night. These techniques also boost physical and mental wellbeing.
Increase Intake of Iron and Magnesium
As stated before, Iron deficiency is one of the underlying causes of RLS. Patients with Iron deficiency can consume apples, honey, pomegranates, and dates as a natural source of iron.
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant hence can help ease RLS pain. Some of the natural sources of magnesium include avocados, bananas, seeds, tofu, legumes, and fatty fish. The good source of both iron and magnesium are nuts, greens such as spinach, kales, peas, and broccoli.
Avoid Sugar and Sodium before Bed
Food rich in sugars and sodium such as dairy and caffeine should be avoided before bedtime. These foods activate and worsen the symptoms of RLS.
Stretch your muscles
Stretch out your muscles just before bed. Do a little bit of exercise and ensure that you occupy your mind with something. This way, the symptoms of RLS will be less painful. You should also try to dissociate the symptoms of RLS with the bedroom environment.
Create a conducive environment
Most of the sleep disorders are contributed by the lack of a conducive environment. Sleep hygiene and creating a conducive environment is a step towards quality sleep.
Lack of quality sleep is contributed by blue light from mobile phones, tablets, and television. This light inhibits the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone, making it hard for you to fall asleep fast. This can be avoided at least a half an hour before bedtime. Fluorescent lights also play a role in sabotaging your sleep.
A weighted blanket is an all-inclusive remedy
One of the benefits of weighted blankets is alleviating the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. The weighted blanket induces a calming effect on the body by exerting pressure on the sensory nerves. The pressure exerted on the sensory nerves recreates a hug or the feeling of being massaged or squeezed. This makes it the number one therapeutic tool in the treatment of sleep related disorders.
Weighted blankets are also known to reduce cortisol hormone, a stress hormone whose high levels in the body can result in restless leg syndrome. The use of weighted blankets work magic and it eases symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, all of which contribute highly to restless leg syndrome.
Weighted Blankets for Restless Legs Syndrome
Weighted blankets are blankets with extra weights stuffed in the pockets between their fabric. These extra weights on the weighted blanket exert pressure on the body stimulating the sensory nerves’ pressure points hence calming the body. The weighted blankets come in a variety of weights and sizes. For the best results, keep the weight of the weighted blanket to 10% of the body.
Weighted blankets have so many benefits that patients with restless leg syndrome can benefit from. These wide-ranging benefits include:
- It reduces stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves sleep quality, and
- Increase sleep duration
All these are related to restless leg syndrome in one way or another.
Weighted blankets apply the principle of deep pressure stimulations(DPS) in alleviating the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. DPS is responsible for the activation of ‘feel good’ hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. These hormones are responsible for counteracting the production of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Well, is DPS generally accepted in the treatment of sleep-related disorders?
DPS became popular among mainstream consumers lately. However, it has been a thing for some time and has been used widely as a therapy tool. It has been proven to work for patients with autism, ADHD, PTSD among others.
Various research has also been carried out to prove that weighted blankets provide the benefits of DPS and with it comes several other favorable results. An example is a research study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health that investigates the safety and therapeutic effects of DPS using a weighted blanket.
How do Weighted Blankets help with Restless Leg Syndrome?
The design of a weighted blanket is such that it has pockets within its fabric. These pockets are filled with filler materials such as plastic poly pellets, micro-glass beads, or steel shot beads. The pockets are tightly sewn to ensure that the weights are evenly distributed on the blanket.
Weighted blankets help those suffering from RLS in two ways. It calms and soothes the muscles in the legs to ease the pain and the urge to move the legs. It also soothes and calms the mind ensuring that RLS patients fall asleep faster and for longer.
A weighted blanket, therefore, helps ease the symptoms of RLS and encourages healthy sleep patterns.
The weighted blankets also provide Deep Pressure Stimulation to the legs for the restless leg syndrome patients. The gentle but firm DPS from the weighted blanket relaxes the muscles ensuring blood circulation in the legs.
Weighted blankets also offer input for the tactile sensory system which relies on touch. The tactile system provides multiple types of sensation from the body and the touch receptors receive and process messages via a sense of touch.
The hormone dopamine plays an important role in the treatment of RLS. The principle of DPS stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine hormone. These hormones are used by the body to instill calmness in the brain and the body. The increase of serotonin hormone increases calmness in the body. Serotonin is also responsible for stimulating the production of melatonin which is a sleep hormone.
Restless leg syndrome is a common disorder that affects everyone from children to the elderly. The disorder varies in severity and a moderate to severe RLS can lead to detrimental health effects and results in insomnia.
Restless leg syndrome can be treated with the help of medications, however, most of the doctor’s prescriptions could lead to other unfavorable side effects.
Most people suffering from RLS have opted for home remedies and they work well in alleviating symptoms of RLS. Weighted blankets are the most popular among the home remedies for restless leg syndrome. It is their other benefits like better sleep that also makes it popular.
Weighted blankets use the principle of deep pressure stimulation (DPS) to stimulate the body to produce hormones that calm the body. These hormones soothe and calms the nervous system hence easing the pain and discomfort brought by RLS.