What Can You Do for Restless Legs at Night?

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
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Cramping, itching, tingling, burning legs at night that is only relieved through immediate movement…do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, you may have restless legs syndrome (RLS). While it may sound like nothing more than a mere nuisance, RLS — also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease — often has a severe impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep when left untreated.

Fortunately, the board-certified physicians at Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) provide state-of-the-art vascular care for a wide range of venous conditions, including RLS. Still, you can supplement your expert vein treatment with simple lifestyle changes during particularly irritable nighttime RLS flare-ups in several ways. Keep reading as we discuss the best methods to alleviate the symptoms of restless legs at night.

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What Causes RLS at Night?

Understanding the cause behind nighttime restless leg flare-ups may help determine which remedies provide relief — and why they’re so effective. According to the National Health Service, the exact cause of RLS is largely unknown, but it may relate to the basal ganglia, a part of the brain that uses a neurotransmitter called dopamine to regulate movement and muscle activity. This chemical sends messages that unite the brain and the nervous system to perform this process.

The brain’s dopamine supply decreases if nerve cells are damaged, resulting in involuntary motions and muscle spasms. RLS flare-ups often occur later in the evening and night because the body’s dopamine production naturally drops as the day ends. This means your symptoms may worsen just when you’re settling into bed and hoping for a sound sleep.

Nighttime RLS: Other Risk Factors

Despite the undetermined cause of RLS, there are several known reasons your symptoms may get worse as night falls. Here are a few factors that can trigger the dopamine decrease connected to severe nighttime RLS symptoms:

Lack of Sleep

Frustratingly, RLS flare-ups can be triggered by a lack of sleep — one of the many issues they can cause, as well. The best way to avoid sleep-related RLS symptoms is to stay as consistent as possible with your bedtime routine. Try to wake up and fall asleep at the same time each night, and of course, strive for a full eight hours, too.

Nicotine

Smoking has been proven to have a connection to numerous health conditions. According to the Sleep Foundation, some studies have shown that nicotine can increase the risk of RLS and worsen existing symptoms, particularly in females. If nicotine is already a part of your daily routine, persistent RLS flare-ups are one more compelling reason to try to quit.

Medication

Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs have been found to aggravate RLS symptoms, such as certain antidepressants, antihistamines, beta-blockers, and anti-nausea medications, as per WebMD. If you notice RLS flare-ups on one or more of these types of medications, talk with your physician about a suitable alternative. Of course, you should never stop taking a prescription medication or change doses without discussing it with your doctor first.

Lack of Movement

RLS is often connected to chronic venous insufficiency, which occurs when the veins in the legs can’t adequately pump blood back to the heart for recirculation. This means risk factors can overlap with those of other vascular conditions. Whether you’re taking a long car ride or spending a long day sitting at the office, try to take periodic breaks by standing up and moving around a bit. You may realize a noticeable improvement in your RLS symptoms that night.

Exercise

It may sound counterintuitive; after all, consistent, moderate exercise is known to provide a wealth of benefits that improve quality of life. However, putting too much strain on the body by getting a strenuous workout shortly before bedtime — or even during the day — can contribute to restless leg symptoms. Make sure your fitness routine aligns with your body’s needs and capabilities to get the most from your workout.

Stress

If stress and anxiety are surfacing in any area of your life, restless leg symptoms could worsen at night, potentially adding more stress to the equation. Keep your stress and restless legs at bay — prioritize your physical and mental health through thoughtful, stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or some simple stretching. If your stress and anxiety are severe, speak with your physician about treatment options.

Alcohol

Despite being considered a depressant, alcohol has been shown to worsen restless leg symptoms at night, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Make sure to moderate your intake if you’re having trouble sleeping due to your RLS symptoms.

RLS at Night: Your Treatment Options

Considering the unknown cause of RLS, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. While you may be able to keep bothersome nighttime symptoms at bay by being aware of the risk factors detailed above, getting long-term, optimal results often requires professional intervention.

After an RLS diagnosis, your physician will determine whether it may be related to an underlying venous condition, providing clarity as you discuss potential treatment options. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients with RLS cases that aren’t related to chronic venous insufficiency may be prescribed an anti-seizure medication such as Gabapentin, which affects the nervous system.

However, if your physician does find an association between your RLS and vein disease, a treatment that addresses the core condition, such as endovenous radiofrequency ablation or ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy, may be more effective.

Center for Vein Restoration physicians will review your medical history and provide a personalized treatment plan for your venous disorder using minimally invasive, office-based treatment modalities.

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Managing RLS at Night: Your Next Steps

If your restless leg symptoms consistently prevent you from sleeping and staying asleep, remember that there are plenty of ways to achieve relief and improve your quality of life. Develop a consistent self-care routine and prioritize your venous health by making an appointment with a board-certified CVR physician to give you peace of mind while you navigate your next steps.

Our physicians are committed to providing compassionate, affordable, and effective vein care for patients nationwide. We accept most major insurance plans, including Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Medicare. Call 240-965-3915 to speak to a helpful Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you today.

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