Restless legs syndrome (RLS) affects 5% to 15% of adults (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Dec. 15, 2016). That means as many as 30 million Americans suffer from RLS. Roughly 6 million people are so severely impacted by restless legs syndrome that it seriously impacts their quality of life. Sleep is frequently disrupted. Adults are not the only folks affected. Many children and adolescents are also plagued by RLS (Pediatrics, Aug. 2007). These folks need Help! But the drugs that are often prescribed for RLS carry some strange and worrisome side effects. That’s why many people seek the best home remedies for this incredibly upsetting condition.
What’s It Like to Have Restless Legs Syndrome?
It’s almost impossible to describe restless legs syndrome (RLS). People who have never experienced the creepy-crawly sensation that quiets only upon moving the legs have a hard time imagining what victims go through.
One person explained:
“The best way I can describe it is unbearable sensations that start as uncomfortable and then keep increasing and increasing in your legs (not pain but a terrible feeling). All you want to do is get rid of the feeling by walking, moving your legs on the bed, punching or rubbing your legs, oft times to no avail.”
Emily wrote to us from work:
“I am currently at work and my legs are relentlessly jumping under my desk. It is so frustrating; almost unbearably so.”
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
The cause of RLS remains mysterious. It’s one of those conditions for which doctors use a fancy $50 word: “idiopathic.” Here is the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of idiopathic:
“arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause.”
Doctors describe it this way (Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Dec. 2013).
“The term idiopathic is often used to describe a disease with no identifiable cause.”
Medications that can Trigger RLS:
Often overlooked are drugs that can cause restless legs syndrome. Here are some stories from readers:
Susan describes how a common antihistamine triggered her symptoms:
“Benadryl, specifically its primary ingredient, diphenhydramine, absolutely aggravates my Restless Legs Syndrome. I know to avoid this drug and anything that contains it, such as the ‘PM’ medications.
“Also, certain nausea medications do it. The one I recall is phenergan. There are several anti-nausea meds that will bring on an RLS episode. Zofran (ondansetron) is the only anti-nausea medication I can take.
“Don’t assume your physician knows this. Several doctors I spoke with knew nothing about it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m allergic to these drugs, and list them on my medication listing accordingly.
“Here’s one more thing I learned through my own experience, and heard from someone else: White Zinfandel wine. This is the only wine I know of that aggravates my RLS, but to be safe, I avoid all ‘rose’ wines. I don’t have this problem with reds or whites.
“One parent and all of my siblings had/have RLS. While on the subject, I’m thankful People’s Pharmacy and other medical sites are calling attention to Restless Legs Syndrome. There are/were people fortunate not to have RLS, but who liked to make fun of or snicker about it. They don’t know how lucky they are.”
D. writes about tramadol withdrawal and RLS symptoms:
“The biggest problem (issue) I believe many people have in getting off a drug like tramadol is the extreme restlessness, along with RLS, that makes sleeping almost impossible. I had terrible akathisia-like symptoms getting off tramadol. While tramadol works wonders for treating those with restless legs, it also causes rebound problems when withdrawing.
“Tramadol’s unique makeup make it a complex drug. It acts not just as an opiate, but also a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. I believe this plays a role in treatment of pain, but also mood and antidepressant properties.”
Doctors Treat Restless Legs Syndrome with Powerful Drugs:
Doctors have four medications that they can prescribe to help people with RLS. These drugs all affect brain chemistry.
Three target the neurotransmitter dopamine and are also used to treat Parkinson’s disease. They include ropinirole (Requip), pramipexole (Mirapex) and the transdermal patch rotigotine (Neupro). Like most medications, these can cause side effects such as dry mouth or drowsiness. Some people fall asleep in the middle of the day with no advance warning. Needless to say, this can make driving dangerous.
“I have used all the drugs recommended for RLS. I have had this condition all my life and I am 68. None of the drugs have helped. I had a side effect of going to sleep during the day – teaching, driving, very embarrassing and very dangerous.”
A Scary and Unusual Side Effect:
In addition, these drugs can cause some unexpected reactions. Most people are taken aback when they discover that they have an uncontrollable urge to gamble, shop compulsively or binge eat. One woman wrote us:
“I thought I’d finally found the best medication for my RLS. Then I started to gamble. It is out of control to the extent that my husband and I have separated. I also lost my good-paying job and am in financial trouble.
“I can’t stop gambling, though I never gambled before in my life. I want to stop taking my pramipexole, but then what will I do about my RLS? If I don’t take my med I can’t sleep and I’m in pain with all the leg jumping.”
Another person confided:
“I was put on Requip by a neurologist specializing in movement disorders. Despite the maximum dose of Requip, my RLS was worsening. In the meantime, I was spending a lot of money shopping online for things that made absolutely no sense–for example, 12 used nativity sets.”
The fourth medication is related to a common anticonvulsant, gabapentin. Gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant) is approved for treating pain after shingles (postherpetic neuralgia) as well as for RLS. When the FDA approved this medication, it required a warning that the drug “may cause significant driving impairment.” This may be due in part to sleepiness and dizziness. Other side effects include headache, nausea and fatigue.
Best Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome:
It’s no wonder that many RLS patients look for alternative approaches. Some people find it helpful to put a bar of soap under the bottom sheet near the legs. One gentleman told us that since he started using a popular brand of soap, he has been able to reduce his dose of Mirapex and get good sleep.
A visitor to our website reported:
“Thanks to People’s Pharmacy, I’ve used soap (slivers of any brand, sample-size bars of any kind) under the bottom sheet, sprinkled where my legs will be. It’s miraculous!”
Not everyone is so enthusiastic about soap in bed. Another person wrote:
“I have had great success with my nightly RLS by rubbing lavender oil on my thighs. Sadly, the soap did not work for me, as it would have been a lot cheaper.”
There is even some science to support the use of lavender oil to calm RLS symptoms (Nursing and Midwifery Studies, Dec. 2015). Such home remedies won’t work for everyone, but they are less likely to cause unpleasant side effects.
This “Doubting Thomasina” combined soap and lavender for successful treatment of RLS and neuropathy:
We know this is going to sound self serving…but we have created a very special flat bar of soap with extra lavender. It goes under the bottom sheet and many people tell us it works surprisingly well for leg cramps and RLS. Here is a link to read more about Bed Soap from The People’s Pharmacy. And as if that shameless self promotion isn’t enough, here is a crazy product we created after we heard from a woman who came up with a remedy for RLS during airplane flights. A link to Leg Soap from The People’s Pharmacy.
More Best Home Remedies for RLS:
Iron Supplementation for RLS:
Doctors have been writing about the use of iron supplements for RLS for decades. This comes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal (June 17, 1967):
“In 1944 the Swedish neurologist Ekbom described an old but almost completely neglected syndrome which he called “the restless leg syndrome”. This syndrome is characterized by an unpleasant crawling or creeping sensation in the legs, occurring usually at night or during periods of rest, and relieved by movement of the affected limbs.
“Various forms of therapy have been used with variable success. The best results have been with vasodilators and intravenous iron. Until more experimental work has been done in this syndrome, we will have to wait for a more acceptable explanation of the pathogenesis and a more rational form of therapy.”
By the way, the scientific name for RLS is Willis-Ekbom disease. It was obviously named in part for Dr. Ekbom. Sir Thomas Willis also gets credit. He described the fidgets in a 1672 paper.
Fast forward more than 50 years to a systematic review and meta-analysis of the medical literature on “Iron Supplementation for Restless Legs Syndrome” in the European Journal of Internal Medicine (Feb. 21, 2019):
“In conclusion, iron is efficient and safe for the treatment of RLS. The current evidence from our meta-analysis supports the use [of] iron, both oral or IV, as effective therapy for patients with RLS.
“Further research should determine the dosage and regimens of the iron preparation, and should be adequately powered to detect treatment response and safety profile.”
We encourage people to discuss this best home remedy for RLS with a health professional to determine a reasonable dose of iron.
Emily shared her simple remedy:
“I find that the absolute best home remedy for my RLS is a cup of chamomile tea. It really is wondrous. It’s too bad that it makes me so sleepy. I don’t trust it enough to drink during the day; I only drink it to sleep at night. It makes me feel like weights are attached to my feet and they just sink comfortably into the mattress.”
What Are Your Best Home Remedies for RLS?
Share your own experience with restless legs syndrome below in the comment section. What has worked and what didn’t?