Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as RLS, is a chronic condition that’s hard for the layperson to understand.
Basically, those who suffer from this condition experience an overwhelming urge to move their legs, especially at night.
Now, while uninformed folks might say that Restless Leg Syndrome is “imaginary”, or that it’s “all in the mind”, this is very much a real condition that affects people from across the globe.
In this blog post, we tell you all you need to know about Restless Leg Syndrome, and share how you can use a weighted blanket for restless legs.
What, exactly, is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Simply put, RLS is a nervous system disorder that gives you an irresistible urge to move your legs. RLS also causes an unpleasant crawling or creeping sensation in the feet, calves and thighs.
According to statistics, RLS affects up to 10% of the US population. While this disorder affects both genders, women are more likely to experience Restless Leg Syndrome.
How RLS impacts a person’s day-to-day life differs on a case by case basis. Some people experience symptoms of RLS only occasionally, while others encounter them every day. From what we know, folks who are severely affected by the disorder tend to be middle-aged or older.
As a general rule of thumb, most individuals with RLS find that their symptoms get worse in the evening and at night.
Other than simply having an irresistible urge to move their legs, these people may also experience Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS), which refers to when your legs and arms jerk involuntarily while you’re asleep.
Interesting to note: RLS is classified as both a nervous system disorder and a sleep disorder because it tends to cause severe sleep deprivation and disruption.
Primary vs Secondary Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS falls into two different categories -- primary and secondary RLS.
In the vast majority of RLS cases, doctors are unable to identify any factors causing the condition. These cases are termed as primary (or idiopathic) RLS.
Secondary RLS, on the other hand, deals with RLS that occurs as a complication or as a result of another health condition.
More specifically, secondary RLS might occur in those who:
- Are anaemic and have an iron deficiency
- Have a long-term health condition such as fibromyalgia, kidney disease, or diabetes
- Are pregnant
In these cases, the RLS usually disappears if or when the condition abates.
For instance, if someone starts consuming more iron in their diet, and successfully reverses their iron deficiency, it’s likely that their RLS will disappear.
The same goes for pregnant women -- once these women give birth, their RLS will typically stop on its own accord.
Quick aside: there are also certain triggers which make symptoms of RLS worse. These include:
- Certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antihistamines
- Excessive smoking
- Excessive intake of caffeine or alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Having high levels of stress
- Not exercising regularly
What causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
As mentioned, in the vast majority of cases, researchers are still unable to identify the root cause of RLS.
All we know for now is that:
- RLS tends to run in families, and
- RLS may have something to do with how your body handles dopamine.
Firstly, research shows that there are specific genes related to RLS, and these genes often run in families. For individuals with a family history of RLS, their own symptoms of RLS tend to occur before the age of 40.
Moving on, researchers are also exploring the idea that RLS is closely intertwined with a part of the brain called the basal ganglia.
Let’s break it down: the basal ganglia are a set of brain “structures” that are situated at the base of the forebrain and top of the midbrain, and these structures use a neurotransmitter called dopamine to help control muscle activity and movement.
Here, dopamine acts as a messenger of sorts -- it ensures that your brain and nervous system are on the same page, and works to help your brain regulate and coordinate movement.
Now, the problem arises if your nerve cells somehow get damaged. When this happens, the level of dopamine in your brain will fall, and this causes muscle spasms and involuntary movements.
Because our dopamine levels also naturally fall towards the end of the day, those with RLS also tend to experience more severe symptoms at night.
How to treat Restless Leg Syndrome
For those with secondary RLS, treating your condition is typically more straightforward.
Like we mentioned earlier, if your RLS is associated with iron deficiency, it’s fairly straightforward to consume more iron, and hopefully get rid of your RLS that way.
But if you’re suffering from a case of primary RLS, this makes things more complicated.
Treating RLS with medication
There are several types of medications that may help with RLS.
First and foremost, your doctor might prescribe you with medication that increases the level of dopamine in your brain. These medications include ropinirole (Requip), rotigotine (Neupro) and pramipexole (Mirapex).
Next, medication that affect calcium channels, including gabapentin (Neurontin), gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant) and pregabalin (Lyrica) can also give relief to some individuals with RLS.
Then there are opioids, which are essentially narcotic medications such as codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone), combined oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet), and combined hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin).
Many doctors avoid prescribing these medications (or only prescribe these if other medications have proven to be ineffective), because they’re addictive when used in large quantities.
Finally, if your RLS is severely disrupting your sleep, it’s also possible to ask your doctor for muscle relaxants and sleep medications.
One common sleep medication used amongst those with RLS is clonazepam (Klonopin); while this doesn’t eliminate the sensations that you get, they may help you sleep better at night.
Important: treating RLS with medication is a complex, time-consuming process, and it will typically take several trials for your doctor to find the ideal medication (or combination of medications) for your situation.
Also, do note that many of these medications come with their own side effects. For instance, after consuming medication that increases the dopamine in your brain, many patients report symptoms such as nausea, lightheadedness and fatigue.
Treating RLS without medication
If you’re not keen on taking medication, and you prefer an all-natural treatment program, some things you can do include:
- Soaking in a warm bath and massaging your legs
- Applying heat or ice packs to your legs. Some individuals with RLS say that alternating the use of these help to numb the uncomfortable sensations that come about with RLS.
- Establishing a proper sleep routine. This entails several things, including not using electronic devices an hour prior to sleeping, sleeping at the same time every night, and sleeping in an environment that’s cool, quiet, and free of light pollution.
- Exercising. Experts recommend exercising in moderation early on in the day -- don’t hit the gym too late, because this might worsen your RLS.
- Avoiding caffeine and sweet, sugary beverages.
- Utilizing a weighted blanket for restless legs
We’ll discuss how you might use a weighted blanket for restless legs in the next section, so read on to find out more.
Weighted blanket for restless legs
If this is the first time you’re hearing about weighted blankets, these are essentially blankets that are filled with “stuffers” to weigh them down.
Weighted blankets come in a variety of weights and sizes; for best results, opt for one that’s approximately 10% of your body weight.
So, how do weighted blankets work, and how can you use weighted blankets for restless legs?
Well, weighted blankets are shown to provide a wide range of benefits, including:
- Reducing stress
- Reducing anxiety
- Improving sleep quality
- Increasing sleep duration
If you’re wondering about the science behind it all, basically, weighted blankets provide a form of Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) to its users.
What does DPT do? In a nutshell, it activates “feel good” hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, and these hormones go on to counteract the cortisol (the “stress” hormone) in your body.
So, simply put, DPT helps you manage and alleviate stress, and relax more effectively.
At this point, you might be wondering… is DPT legitimate? How do I know if it’s actually a thing?
Now, while DPT has only gotten popular amongst mainstream consumers recently, it’s actually been used as a therapy tool for decades now, and it’s very much a tried-and-tested form of therapy.
On top of that, there’s also research to prove that weighted blankets provide the benefits of DPT, and achieve several favorable outcomes.
For instance, a study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health shows that weighted blankets have a calming and relaxing effect on adults.
In another study published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association, researchers found that study participants who wore a weighted blanket during wisdom tooth extraction showed enhanced activity in the branch of the nervous system that “takes over in times of low stress”.
How do weighted blankets help for those who suffer from RLS?
Weighted blankets help with RLS on different levels.
First and foremost, these increase the levels of dopamine in your body, and we’ve previously ascertained that RLS is linked to having low levels of dopamine in your brain.
Next, weighted blankets also indirectly alleviate your symptoms by helping you to relax and fall asleep.
Seeing as though the majority of RLS patients also suffer from sleep deprivation, addressing this particular complication can vastly improve the quality of life for individuals with RLS.
Here’s a personal anecdote from an RLS patient who uses weighted blankets to cope with her RLS:
Want to experience a weighted blanket for RLS?
To make things clear, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to RLS.
Bearing this in mind, a weighted blanket is definitely NOT a magic bullet, and it’s by no means guaranteed to help with RLS.
That said, if there’s even the slightest chance that a weighted blanket can help to alleviate your RLS symptoms, we say… take it!
Now, for those of you who want to give weighted blanket a shot, hop on over to Hush Blankets and take your pick.
All Hush Blankets come with a 100 Night Guarantee, which means that you get to try out a weighted blanket with zero risk.
If the weighted blanket doesn’t help with your RLS, and you don’t find yourself better off in any way, then just return the blanket to us, and we’ll process a full refund for you.
We WILL say, though, that we have customers from all walks of life, including those with autism, ADHD, fibromyalgia and more, and these folks keep raving about how our weighted blanket has changed their lives.
We’ve got our fingers crossed for you. Here’s hoping that a weighted blanket will do the trick!