You've felt it. There's a tingly, itchy, or "crawly" sensation in your legs that keeps you awake at night, causing you to shift and move around in bed. Maybe you've felt it in the daytime as well, a cold, pressing sensation in your limbs while sitting or during long periods of inactivity, urging you to stretch, walk or massage the affected muscle to relieve the sensation.
What is it? What's causing it? If there are no other obvious medical conditions that could be causing this discomfort, you may be suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), and you are not alone.
What Is RLS and What Causes It?
RLS is a nervous system disorder that triggers an uncontrollable impulse to move your legs because of unpleasant prickling, itching, or twitching sensations.
Statistics show that around 10 percent of the U.S. population is affected by RLS. It is more common in women than in men, typically starts after age 30, and gets progressively worse as you get older.
You may be diagnosed with RLS if these symptoms mostly happen or get worse at night, disrupt your sleep more than two or three times per week, are not linked to other medical conditions, and if there is a history of RLS in your family. Unfortunately, once they start, the symptoms will persist for the rest of your life, and to date, there is no medically established treatment or cure for this condition.
Side Effects of RLS
Besides the uncomfortable sensations, RLS can also have other side effects. The irresistible urge to move often hampers your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Lack of sleep can lead to daytime drowsiness, potentially affecting your performance at work or while you are driving. Depression and anxiety can often follow as a result of sleeplessness and the reduced ability to function.
Moving about, flexing, or massaging your leg often helps. All of these are ways of stimulating the affected muscle, thereby replacing the urge to move with an alternate sensation for the brain to focus on. Counter-stimulating your muscles in this way can be key in relieving the symptoms of RLS.
Try Using a Weighted Blanket for Restless Legs
Research suggests that sleeping under a weighted blanket can relieve the discomfort of RLS and the anxiety it may cause.
As the name implies, a weighted blanket, sometimes referred to as a heavy blanket, is constructed with weights inside it, usually plastic, glass, or magnetic beads, evenly distributed to give a uniform weight throughout. Many people who have slept under weighted blankets reported an increased sense of calm and security, resulting in a deeper and better sleep.
How Much Should a Weighted Blanket Weigh?
Weighted blankets range from 5 to 30 pounds and usually come in standard sizes of 10, 12, 15, 17, and 20 pounds. When choosing a weighted blanket, select one that is approximately 10 percent of your body weight plus one or two pounds. If 10 percent of your body weight falls between the available sizes, move up to the next higher weight. If the blanket is for someone who's ill or frail, opt for the next lowest weight.
Does a Weighted Blanket Work for Restless Legs?
This constant gentle pressure of a weighted blanket provides a sustained counter-stimulation that’s needed to relieve RLS sensations. It works on the same principles as Deep Touch therapy. This therapy applies evenly distributed weight over your body to stimulate pressure points and help produce hormones associated with relaxation and sleep.
The "hugging" sensation of a weighted blanket has a similar effect, triggering the release of serotonin, a calm-inducing chemical in your body. Increased serotonin levels then promote the release of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. At the same time, the gentle, even pressure of a weighted blanket reduces the levels of cortisol, the "stress" hormone.
Are There Other Benefits of Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets have been used to help relieve insomnia, reduce stress, relieve pain and make breathing easier. The serotonin-producing benefit of a weighted blanket for restless legs can also help patients suffering from fibromyalgia, PTSD, and OCD. There is some evidence that weighted blankets help Alzheimer patients sleep better by reducing anxiety, calming nerves, and providing added comfort.
Are There Other Natural Remedies for RLS?
While people suffering from RLS have found relief using home remedies, they are mostly anecdotal and not scientifically proven. However, any form of relief that's effective shouldn't be discouraged or ruled out.
Every person's body responds differently to various treatments for RLS. Find one that works best for you and stick with it. Below are a few natural treatment options for restless legs that have worked for others.
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant that has helped to relieve restless legs for some people. Magnesium is essential for healthy bones and muscles and is present in many foods. For example, milk contains between nine and 12 mg of Magnesium per 100 ml and may be the reason some people swear by drinking warm milk at bedtime to help them fall asleep.
If you don't like to drink milk, you can also take Magnesium in supplement form. Iron depletion is also thought to be a possible cause of RLS, so increasing your iron intake may also help you find relief.
Heat or cold applied to the affected muscles can also be effective. Heating or cooling pads or hot or cold cloth compresses can provide relief by introducing counter-stimulation to replace the feelings of RLS.
While some foods may help counteract RLS symptoms, there may be others that trigger them. Many sources suggest that you should cut back on caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, and avoid heavily salted or sugary foods before bed.
You can also try yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation techniques to create a sleep-friendly environment and put you in a relaxed state.
"Weighing" The Benefits
Given there is no official, proven treatment for RLS as yet, using a weighted blanket for restless legs seems definitely worth a try; and if you suffer from RLS, you are likely willing to try anything! Weighted blankets can be a drug-free, portable, affordable way to reduce stress, increase calm, and bring a more restful sleep for all.