Restless Legs Syndrome: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Restless legs syndrome is a common nervous system problem. People with this syndrome feel a creeping, achy, or unpleasant feeling in the legs and an overpowering urge to move them. It often occurs in the evening and at night and can lead to sleep problems and tiredness.

Your doctor may suggest doing a study of your sleep patterns to figure out what is happening when you try to sleep. Many people get relief from symptoms when they get regular exercise, eat well, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Try bathing in hot or cold water. Applying a heating pad or ice bag to your legs may also help symptoms.
  • Stretch and massage your legs before bed or when discomfort begins.
  • Get some exercise for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Stop exercising at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Try to plan for situations where you will need to remain seated for long stretches. For example, if you are traveling by car, plan some stops so you can get out and walk around.
  • Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking. This includes all over-the-counter, prescription, and herbal medicines. Some medicines, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, and cold and sinus medicines, can make your symptoms worse.
  • Avoid caffeine products, such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate. Caffeine can interrupt your sleep and stimulate you.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can make restless legs worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not drink alcohol late in the evening.

Take steps to help you sleep better

  • Get plenty of sunlight in the outdoors, particularly later in the afternoon.
  • Use the evening hours for settling down. Avoid activities that challenge you in the hours before bedtime.
  • Eat meals at regular times, and do not snack before bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Try using a sleep mask and earplugs to help you sleep.
  • Limit how much you drink at night to reduce your need to get up to urinate. But do not go to bed thirsty.
  • Run a fan or other steady "white noise" during the night if noises wake you up.
  • Reserve the bed for sleeping and sex. Do your reading or TV watching in another room.
  • Once you are in bed, relax from head to toe, and guide your mind to pleasant thoughts.
  • Do not stay in bed longer than 8 hours, and try to avoid naps.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are still not getting enough sleep.
  • Your symptoms become more severe or happen more often.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.