The People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Put Soap Under Your Bottom Sheet?

Many readers report that putting a fresh bar of soap under your bottom sheet can alleviate restless legs. We think TRP channels help explain why.

Sometimes we come across a remedy or recommendation that, at first blush, doesn’t seem to make any sense. That certainly was the response from many of our readers when we wrote about putting soap under your bottom sheet to ease restless legs. Here is one typical response from 2010:

Q. Being from a science/medical background, it frustrates and irritates me to no end that a silly nonsense remedy, putting soap under the bottom sheet, actually WORKS. I’ve dealt with severe restless legs syndrome (RLS) for years. During the worst phases, I got NO sleep four or five nights a week because I just couldn’t stop moving my legs.

Desperation drove me to try the soap about six months ago. I haven’t had a bad night since. AT ALL.

I’ll actually have RLS symptoms in the living room watching television, and they abate as soon as I go to bed where my soap is. This actually makes me a little bit mad, because it makes NO SENSE! There’s no rational reason why this should work, but it does!

A. We can’t disagree with you. Putting soap under your bottom sheet makes no sense to us either. Nevertheless, hundreds of readers report benefit. Of course, others tell us it is worthless. But we think such an inexpensive, low-risk approach is worth a try.

Does Soap Under Your Bottom Sheet Really Help?

Many people have written to us about their success with this strategy, but not everyone benefits. And there are a few who wouldn’t believe it even if it were true:

Q. I read your newspaper column about using a bar of soap to curb restless legs. This is a fairy tale.

I do not have restless legs, but I used to wake up in the middle of the night with a charley horse. My heart doctor had recommended a bar of soap but it never helped with the leg cramp.

There Is Actually Some Science Behind This Remedy:

A. We have heard from hundreds of readers that soap under your bottom sheet can prevent leg cramps and even restless legs. It doesn’t work for everyone, but there is some science that supports the use of soap. A skin patch with soap-scented oil eased the pain of fibromyalgia and of menstrual cramps (Ough, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sep. 1, 2008; Ough et al, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008).

One possible explanation for the soap effect is the fragrance. A chemist suggested to us that the most popular soaps all seem to have the fragrant compound limonene in their scent.

Another reader reported benefit with fragrance alone:

“Your comment on ‘smell receptors’ in the skin was great. I use my perfume roll on each calf at bedtime. Instead of nightly agony, I’ve only had a leg spasm once since I started. I simply reapplied perfume. What a difference!”

How Does Scent Work?

We don’t know for sure exactly how soap under your bottom sheet can help ease restless legs or muscle cramps, but we suspect that transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are involved. (Limonene activates TRP A1.) You can read more about the effect of these ubiquitous channels on nerves and muscles here, here and here. You may also want to listen to Dr. Bruce Bean explain how TRP channels affect muscle cramps, in Show 1054: The Scientific Explanation for a Weird Remedy.

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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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Why put the soap under the sheet, why not on top of it? I’ve been getting terrible charlie horses in my sleep and sometimes during the daytime. I’m now using magnesium daily and don’t get the pain, but I MUST take it every day. Capsules 500 mg.

I have a bad cold and spastic cough. I have a bar of lavender soap from France right here and it’s doing nothing. In fact, it seems to make it worse. Am I using the wrong kind of soap? Any suggestions? I’ll try it for leg and toe cramps tonight. But meantime, I am on Robitussin and even that’s not working for the cough at this point. Any suggestions, gratefully appreciated.

I’m nearly going mad with RLS but wetting the soap bar and rubbing all over my legs certainly brings some relief . I wish I new what was in the soap that actually helps with RLS. Then I could possibly do more !!!

For years I suffered from charley horses. Those got more frequent, and then I started getting cramps in the bottoms of my feet. I had heard about the soap under the sheet treatment, and for years thought it nonsense, until from desperation I gave it a try. No cramps and a good night’s sleep. I still keep a bar of soap under my sheet, and rotate it into the shower as needed, so I have a fresh bar every 2-3 weeks.

Sometimes if I lie on the couch watching TV, I’ll get a cramp, but never in bed, and I am less reluctant to try treatments that sound a bit unorthodox.

I had a mild case of RLS for many years, but it would come and go at random times. I finally determined that it was worse during the summer months when I was drinking diet soda containing aspartame and would go away during the winter when I didn’t want a cold beverage. So I quit consuming aspartame in all forms, and the RLS went away. Being an engineer I had to confirm this, and I confirmed it several times. As little as three 12 oz cans over three days will bring it on. As soon as I stop the aspartame, the RLS stops. I haven’t had RLS in several years now. (One skeptic said it was the caffeine. No, I drink 6 – 8 cups of coffee per day and have for years.)

I keep a small bag of slivers of soap of any kind by my bed and use when I have leg cramps. I’ve done this for years and it always works. Sometimes I’ll add a heating pad on top of the soap which is placed on the cramp spot. Many times I put small pieces of soap in my socks when I go to bed and never have toe or foot cramps. Now all my friends have found out the same relief. It’s wonderful.

Is there any home remedy for Bursitis? Would the soap/fragrance work, perhaps? My grandson has bursitis with no medical help.

I haven’t had a leg cramp in months since I put the soap under my bottom sheet. I don’t care how crazy a remedy sounds sometimes but I’m always willing to try it. Off subject but another thing that’s been a life saver is when I have a bad cold I rub vapo rub (doesn’t have to be Vicks, can be an off brand) on the bottoms of my feet, put socks on then go to bed for the night. It definitely shortens a cold.

I forgot to put the soap under to bottom sheet so I just put near the foot of the bed. It worked just the same.

I was taking potassium for muscle cramps for a few years, when my doctor noticed my potassium level was high on my blood tests. She asked me what I could be doing that caused that, and I told her I was taking potassium for muscle cramps. She said I could take magnesium for that, and I said I was also taking that. Then she said to stop the potassium, but I didn’t want to because of the cramps. So she said that quinine would prevent cramps. I said where can you get that these days? She thought a moment and said to buy tonic water with quinine and drink at least a half a cup a day. So I started drinking tonic with my orange juice every morning and haven’t experienced any muscle cramps since. Works for me, might work for other people suffering from cramps.

We use a bar of ivory soap in our bed…….if hubby gets RLS while watching tv, he puts on socks, and we take a half bar and stuff in sock at the calf muscle.

It also works for a spastic anal muscle which gets me once a month; very painful with a lot of pressure, sounds crazy, but I use my own personal bar of ivory that I keep in a baggie and I wear the soap in my underwear loosely at the butt. Bizzare maybe, but it gets rid of that awful pressure within 5 minutes. If one hurts enough, you’ll try anything!

I’d been keeping a small bar of soap under my bedsheet to quell nighttime leg cramps for some time; and after a bout of laryngospasm (a spasm in the larynx), I quickly grabbed a bar of soap and held it to the base of my throat — lo and behold, it worked! Ever since, I’ve worn a small piece of soap (which I whittled into a circular shape) in a bit of lace (which I fashioned into a small pouch), that I then sewed onto a silver necklace. I keep that soap necklace within easy reach every single day; and each time a laryngospasm begins to close my throat, I grab the soap pouch and hold it to my throat — it works every single time, within 2-3 seconds!

RE:

Soap under bed sheets.

Listen up non-believers…this works. As crazy as I am called on this, it works.

No soap = painful leg cramps

Soap = no leg cramps

How about hand cramps?

I used the PP soap bits, but the scent is so strong I couldn’t keep it in the house and had to throw them out. Make an unscented version. Everyone was coughing till I got rid of it.

After reading your article about the scientific studies of why soap in the bed might ease leg cramps, I tried a small bar of soap beneath my bottom sheet at the foot of my bed a month ago. Yay! I haven’t had nightly leg cramps since!

I too have had RLS for years, as have my sister and mother. What I have found that works well is to press a spot just to the right of the middle of the top of my foot. My left leg is worse, and I attribute it to bad blood flow; 95% of the time it works! I am definitely going to add scents. What do I have to lose?

I have had leg cramps, especially the left calf for several years.
I read about the bar of soap under the sheet remedy and tried it. It seemed to work. I now use two bars. I have been doing this the past few years. I am in my 80’s.

Does it have to be real soap, or do the “beauty bars” or other bars that are not actual soap, but I’m guessing are detergent instead, work as well?

32 oz. of old, wet coffee grounds under the bottom sheet does miracles on RLS. Change grounds once per week. When removing, use a dirty sock (about a month old) to scoop it out for replacement. The rankest work best.

I would like to add that the soap can be rubbed on the skin for immediate relief. My daughter is a waitress and often get cramps so she tried it this way, and it works every time. Simply wet the soap, and rub away the pain.

Putting apple cider vinegar on a leg spasm stops it within seconds.

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