There are several lifestyle changes you can make to decrease or eliminate symptoms. Keep a log listing what you do and how bad your symptoms are. Look for patterns. If, on days when you take a warm bath before bed, you don’t notice the creepy-crawling sensation, you will know that bathing provides a beneficial habit change. Sometimes it takes a series of trials and errors before learning what will work for you. Some activities that seem to help sufferers include:
- walking, doing deep-knee bends, or stretching
- taking a warm bath about 90 minutes before bedtime
- applying cold compresses
- using a electric massager on the area
- performing acupressure
- learning and practicing relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxation tapes may help you to fall asleep by taking your mind off your symptoms.
- practicing yoga
- massaging the area
- keeping your mind active by reading an interesting book, sewing, or engaging in other riveting entertainment, especially during those times you need to stay seated.
- altering your work environment so you can stand while typing or talking on the telephone.
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
Eliminating alcohol and caffeine from your diet may stop the sensations. Request decaffeinated beverages when you go out to eat. Substitute a tall glass of water or juice for a soft drink. Avoid over-the-counter medications such as headache remedies that contain caffeine.
Do not try to fight the sensations or will yourself not to move. These methods will not work, and may make the sensations worse. Rather than concentrating on your condition, get up and do something that takes your mind off your symptoms.
Establish a regular, mild-to-moderate exercise program. To avoid disrupting sleep, exercise at least six hours before going to bed. On the other hand, some RLS patients find that using a stationary bike or treadmill just before bed reduces their symptoms. Other mild stretching or strengthening exercises also may help.
You may wish to join an RLS support group. Sharing information with other people with the same condition is often helpful. You may learn about new nondrug therapies that have worked for other people, and may benefit from the support of others.
A change in sleep habits may improve your chances of getting a good night's rest. Feeling tired can increase symptoms. There are many techniques you can try to promote sleep, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, getting exercise, and quitting smoking.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day; even on the weekend.
- If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up and read or perform some other relaxing activity.
- Keep the bed for sleep and rest. Avoid working in bed, watching television, using a laptop, or reading.
- Plan your day to allow for eight hours or more of sleep per night.
- If possible, adjust your sleep times to accommodate your most restful periods. Many RLS sufferers find they sleep better in the late morning. You may need to sleep from 2am until 10am to achieve optimal rest.
- Exercise about six hours before bedtime. Physical activity before dinner may help decrease symptoms later in the evening.
- Keep the bedroom slightly cool.
- Read, meditate, or do something else you find relaxing for about a half hour before bed.
- If you smoke, quit, as nicotine can interfere with sleep.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) may help relieve the sensations. Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation, or TENS, is a procedure in which electrode pads that emit mild pulses of electrical energy are placed on the various parts of the body. The electrical impulses act to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Some patients have found relief applying a TENS unit to the area for 15 to 30 minutes prior to bedtime. The pulses are not painful, and feel like a massage. With a doctor’s order, a physical therapist can teach you how to use the device.
Some people find that vitamin or mineral supplements help ease their symptoms. Discuss the type of supplement and recommended dosage with your doctor before starting with this type of therapy. The doctor can order blood tests to determine if your blood levels of some elements are low or within normal range. Taking too many minerals can produce undesirable effects.
There is no cure for most types of RLS. Once you have RLS, you are likely to experience the sensations for the rest of your life. You can, with the help of your doctor, learn to manage the condition. The symptoms may stop on their own for a while. But most likely, they will become worse as you grow older.
RLS may cause severe insomnia. Chronic insomnia results in daytime sleepiness, with difficulty concentrating and completing tasks. Evaluation and treatment at a sleep disorder center may be needed.
Once you are stable, return to the doctor every 6 to 12 months. The doctor may have suggestions for new treatments or self-care techniques based on ongoing research.
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