If you’ve been kept awake at night by the irresistible urge to move your legs that comes with restless legs syndrome, you’ve probably searched for ways to find relief.
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Motivated by the need to sleep, people with the condition have gotten creative. Among their tips: Sleeping with a bar of soap under a fitted sheet. As unusual as it sounds, it may be effective, says neurologist and sleep expert Jessica Vensel-Rundo, MD.
This is because some soap contains magnesium, which has muscle relaxant properties and may ease restless legs symptoms.
Like many other home remedies, this tactic doesn’t have the weight of medical evidence behind it. But when it comes to treating restless legs syndrome, anything that relieves symptoms is worth trying.
And some of the most effective treatment ideas have come from patients.
If there’s a certain activity that works for my patient, I encourage them to try it. Really, treating restless legs is all about symptom control.
Here are five home remedies patients have suggested:
1. (Warm or cold) compresses can be soothing
Heated or cooled pads, often used to relieve swelling caused by injuries and other conditions, have a long history as a home remedy. Dr. Vensel-Rundo says they can be effective by creating a new sensation for the brain to process, reducing the uncomfortable sensation produced by restless legs syndrome.
You can buy an inexpensive cold or warm compress at a store, but the simplest way to make one is to soak fabric in cold or warm water and place it against your skin.
2. Magnesium may relax your muscles
Like calcium, this mineral is critical for bone and muscle health.
“Anecdotally, magnesium may be helpful to relieve restless legs, and it is a natural muscle relaxant,” Dr. Vensel-Rundo says. She recommends taking magnesium separately rather than as part of a multivitamin.
Because magnesium can cause side effects, including diarrhea, it’s best to start at smaller doses of around 200 to 400 mg a day. If you don’t have problems with those, you can go up to 1,000 mg daily. Magnesium glycinate seems to have fewer side effects for patients.
3. Replace the urge to move
When your legs are tingling, throbbing or hurting, it can be difficult for the brain to focus on anything else. One way to break the cycle is to replace the urge to move with another sensation.
“Any kind of counterstimulation, like taking a bath or shower in the evening, can be helpful,” Dr. Vensel-Rundo says. Even rubbing or massaging the legs can provide temporary relief.
Light stretching can help, but rigorous exercise before bed isn’t a good idea, she says.
4. Weighted blankets can reduce prickly feeling — and anxiety
A weighted blanket can offer a constant but gentle counterstimulation to override the feeling of restless legs.
There’s one more reason to suspect weighted blankets might help, Dr. Vensel-Rundo says.
5. Avoid these foods before bed
For reasons that aren’t quite clear, tobacco, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime are known to bring on bouts of restless legs, Dr. Vensel-Rundo says. Dairy products and foods heavy in sugar have also been reported to trigger restless legs.
When to seek help
Of course, home remedies have their limits. If these ideas don’t work for you — and they don’t work for everyone — don’t hesitate to seek out the advice of a sleep expert.
Not everyone with restless legs needs to see a doctor, but severe cases can be debilitating.
She says to consult a doctor if either of the following apply to you:
- Your difficulties falling or staying asleep lead to you feeling sleepy or unrefreshed.
- Your sleep is disrupted at least two or three times a week.