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How to Ease Restless Legs Syndrome with Soap Under the Sheet

Some people find that tucking a bar of soap under the bottom sheet can ease restless legs syndrome, with its creepy sensations.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition in which a person feels an irresistible urge to move the legs. The movement can temporarily ease restless legs syndrome. Moving relieves an uncomfortable sensation similar to a tickle, an itch or insects crawling on the skin. These sensations appear to be most common when a person is sitting quietly, reading or watching television, for example. They often are most disruptive when the sufferer is trying to go to sleep.

Moving the legs every few minutes or so not only wakes the person trying to sleep, but also can disturb a bed partner. Sometimes readers have been surprised to discover that a bar of soap may help ease restless legs syndrome. Here is one person’s account.

Can Soap in Bed Ease Restless Legs Syndrome?

Q. I’ve read about putting soap under the bottom sheet to prevent leg cramps. I suffer from restless legs. I don’t think “leg cramps” refers to this problem. Do you have any other recommendations?

A. You are quite right that leg cramps and restless legs are two entirely different problems. A leg cramp (or charley horse) is a sudden contraction or spasm of a muscle. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a puzzling neurological condition. Patients report an uncontrollable urge to move the legs to alleviate uncomfortable “creepy-crawly” sensations.

Oddly, though, we have heard from readers that both problems may respond to a bar of soap placed under the bottom sheet in the vicinity of the legs. Others put soap chips in their socks or smear liquid soap on their skin.

We have a hypothesis about why this might help prevent leg cramps. Perhaps the fragrance of the soap activates transient receptor potential (TRP) channels that reverse inappropriate nerve-muscle communication. We don’t know if this might also apply to restless leg syndrome.

Slicing Up Soap:

Q. When I read in your newspaper column that soap could help restless legs syndrome (RLS), I really didn’t believe it. But I was so desperate I was willing to try anything. 
I sliced Ivory soap bars thin with a cheese slicing wire. Then I put the little pieces at the bottom of a full-body pillow, with the soap bars near my feet. Scraps and any soap chips created from slicing the soap go in my socks while I wear them around house.

After three weeks, this crazy gimmick has worked. It even eliminated my leg cramps. Is it a placebo? I don’t know, but I like the results.

Do you know why it works? I’m sure there must be some ingredient in soap that is responsible.

Magnesium pills used to be my solution to ease restless legs syndrome, but they really didn’t work that well. Ivory soap, my new RLS savior, also has a mild clean smell.

A. RLS often interferes with sleep. Since scientists still do not know exactly what causes this distressing condition, we don’t really know why the soap seems to ease restless legs syndrome.

A hypothesis as to how soap might work involves the fragrance limonene. This may be a common component of  soap fragrances. Some research  suggests that this volatile compound activates TRP (transient receptor potential) channels in the skin. This may calm hyperexcitable nerves (European Journal of Applied Physiology, Aug. 2017).

The Soap Story:

Another reader found that even prescription drugs didn’t fully ease restless legs syndrome. But a bar of soap tucked under the sheet made an unexpected difference.

Q. After ten years of suffering with RLS, requiring ever increasing amounts of ropinirole (Requip) to sleep, I thought I was losing my mind due to lack of sleep. I spent hours pacing during the night and usually slept in our second bedroom so that I would not disturb my wife. Even with medication I needed to get up around 1 or 2 am and work through a second episode of RLS before finally falling asleep again.

Then the RLS suddenly stopped. I told my wife that I wasn’t having the issue any longer and was puzzled by the change.

That’s when she informed me that a co-worker suggested putting soap under the sheet. She had put a bar under our bottom sheet to see if it actually worked for restless legs syndrome.

I still take my meds (because I am paranoid about not sleeping) but I need only a minimum dose. So far I’m thrilled with this bizarre solution.

Cramp Remedy May Also Help RLS:

A. We have heard from many people who use soap under the bottom sheet to prevent nighttime leg cramps in bed. People with RLS may also find this remedy beneficial. We are pleased you’ve gotten such a good response.

Another reader tried a different approach, which you might want to keep in mind if you need it in the future:

“I suffered from restless leg syndrome. After hunting for remedies, I realized all the products had magnesium in them. I bought a bottle of magnesium and take one pill every night. I have not had any more attacks.”

If you suffer from RLS, give the soap remedy a try. Let us know if it worked for you. The soap is ordinary bar soap, and it is to be placed on the mattress pad, under the bottom sheet, near where the legs will be. We hope it will ease restless legs syndrome for you.

Side Effects from Requip:

The FDA approved ropinirole to treat restless legs syndrome in 2005. The drug had originally been developed to treat Parkinson’s disease. The dose used to treat RLS is lower, but it can still have side effects.

They include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • digestive distress
  • loss of appetite
  • drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • trouble concentrating
  • urinary difficulties
  • erectile dysfunction

Some side effects are uncommon, but if they occur they can be serious.

They may include:

  • fainting
  • hallucinations
  • heart rhythm changes
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble swallowing
  • double vision

If any of these occur in a person taking ropinirole, medical attention should be urgently sought.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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