restless legs syndrome

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.

Geni writes:

“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:

Skeptic Discovers Benefit of Soap for Neuropathy

Skeptic Discovers Benefit of Soap for 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? 

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  1. Calista
    N J

    I have had issues with having that creepy crawling feeling in my legs which will wake me up from a sound sleep. I have used other homeopathic for difficulties & I purchased the Restful Legs formula by Hyland’s & have found it works very quickly & it makes those feelings go away. An excellent product as far as I am concerned.

  2. Tina

    Yoga is my go-to treatment for RLS. It has really helped me so much so that I experience RLS only on occasion when I’ve been lax in my yoga practice. It is a great alternative to drug therapies.

  3. Trish

    These are the things that have helped me (hopefully) beat RLS:
    1 – Very low dose Niacin – usually about 50mg.
    2 – Reducing Glutamate by avoiding excessive MSG and utilizing valerian, cat’s claw, and magnolia bark when needed.
    3 – Balancing my electrolytes and keeping hydrated (but not drinking excessive amounts of water).
    4 – Taking L Tyrosine to improve dopamine levels.

  4. Elizabeth

    Someone I know used CBD to stop pain in her worn out thumbs & was surprised when her restless legs stopped jittering. I don’t know how much she took, but it was quite a small dose.

  5. Jeanne

    I have leg problems and sought my doctor for answers. She took a couple of iron blood tests because she told me that RLS is often caused by low iron. I was at the very low end of normal in both tests, so it was written off as “no problem there.” I guess optimal is not in many doctors’ diagnosis. I still have issues with my legs. I know taking iron supplements is a bit risky, so I guess I am sort of stuck with the problem since I don’t think I dare go on supplements. I am on good magnesium and a high enough dosage that I know my leg problem is not due to low magnesium. I am curious if anyone else has had iron “in the low range” and still suffering.

  6. Michael
    San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    There’s a special kind of vitamin E that works for me. It has different names. The one I use now is called “water solubilized vitamin E”, produced by Nature Made. In the past, I used one called “mycelized” E. This doesn’t work for everyone, I’ve found, but it works wonders for me. The RLS disappears in about 10 minutes.

    Because it’s water soluble, it moves through the body quickly, and avoids the problems of taking too much vitamin E.

  7. Carol

    I took clonazepam for 20 years for RLS but my RLS suddenly became worse last year! Trial & error proved my RLS was now aggravated by taking Melatonin and cold meds! I am now taking Gabapentin 300mg @ bedtime, plus magnesium and iron supplement. I was addicted to clonazepam and still having erratic sleep but RLS is much improved! Now to wean myself off Gababentin.

  8. Barbara

    I have had RLS for as long as I can remember, and I’ll be 71 soon. I would classify mine as mild most of the time and occasionally moderate. Luckily I do not have it every night. On the nights when I do experience it, the symptoms either start as soon as I hop into bed, or, I easily fall asleep, then awaken about 60-90 minutes later with symptoms.

    The link between low iron and RLS symptoms is well known, but less well known is the link between low folate and RLS symptoms. When my diet is low in folate, the symptoms are worse and more frequent, so I take calcium folinate and (6S)-5-Methyltetrahydrofolic acid (NOT regular old folic acid) daily and eat as many cooked leafy greens as I can.

    I have also found that taking a high quality CBD Oil before bed helps about 85% of the time.

  9. Jean

    I have heard that with RLS you are low on magnesium. I use Magnesium Gel from Bio Inovations and it works within 5 to 10 minutes for me.

  10. Lindmuth
    Houston, TX

    I wear compression socks when I get RLS. It works instantaneously.

  11. Dot
    Cary NC

    soap in a sock works for me……small piece of soap in a sock and in a few minutes my RLS is gone

    DH in North Carolina

  12. Jan

    Carole, you might try a magnesium lotion. I use Mo’Maggie, but there are lots of others.

  13. Susan Lynne Beans

    I take a Magnesium supplement at night for my RLS, with excellent results. On the rare occasion that the supplement isn’t enough, I also rub magnesium oil on my lower legs. This helps almost immediately.

  14. Sharon Moriarity

    I read your column always in our local paper,I find for RLS,I drink tonic thru out the day,it has natural quinnine in it works.

  15. Martha
    Atlanta, Ga.

    Many years ago, I complained to my Dr. about restless legs and she prescribed Folic Acid 1mg tablet l time daily. It has to be a prescription, not over the counter. It works!

  16. Arlene
    Tucson, AZ

    What about medical marijuanna, such as the Simpson Oils? I believe we should start doing real investigation into the all natural benefits of a god-given plant (hemp).

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