Getting a good, full night’s sleep is essential for good health; however, people suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome often find it difficult to do so. RLS affects approximately 35% of the elderly population, a demographic that already has a disproportionately poor sleep quality. While there is no known cure for RLS, there are a number of effective natural ways to lessen the effects of RLS and take care of yourself and your body by improving your sleeping habits.
WHAT IS RLS?
Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, Restless Leg Syndrome is a type of neurological sensory disorder that causes the overwhelming urge to move one’s legs, particularly while sitting still or lying in bed. In some cases, RLS can also affect other parts of the body including the arms and head.
Those who suffer from RLS and associated chronic sleep deprivation may be at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, depression, and early death.
WHO IS AFFECTED BY RLS?
There is no specific demographic of people affected by RLS. However, it is noted that RLS can be seen in women more often than in men.
People whose symptoms manifest most severely are often middle-aged or older, and while the onset of the disease can appear at any stage, symptoms generally increase in severity with age. In addition, RLS is quite common among the elderly population, with approximately 35% of older adults affected by the disease.
WHAT CAUSES RLS?
The cause of RLS is often a mystery. It is thought that there may be a connection between RLS and low levels of iron in the brain, even if iron levels read as normal on blood tests. RLS may also be linked to a disruption in the dopamine pathways in the brain.
While there is no known cause of primary RLS, some people suffer the disease secondarily as a result of pregnancy, nerve problems, iron deficiency or chronic kidney failure. Certain substances such as caffeine or alcohol are thought to trigger or intensify symptoms, and other potential causes include medications used to treat depression, allergies and nausea.
RLS AND SLEEP
Sleep is one of the most important processes our bodies go through – it helps regulate our internal systems, it helps our bodies heal, and keeps our mental health in check.
Those who suffer from RLS will usually find the symptoms are most severe when they are inactive for long periods of time, or at night when they are resting or in bed. This makes it difficult for those affected to fall asleep or to get back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems, and people suffering from RLS must take care to manage it properly so as not to become sleep deprived.
The effect of sleeplessness associated with RLS can be particularly dangerous to members of the elderly community. Older people tend to spend more time in bed than their younger counterparts, but they often have more difficulty getting to sleep, experience less time in the deeper types of sleep and wake up more in the middle of the night. These sleeping difficulties, coupled with more severe symptoms as age progresses, makes it that much more important for older people affected by the disease to manage their symptoms.
IS THERE A CURE FOR RLS?
There is no known cure for RLS; however, it often appears as a result of other health problems such as diabetes or kidney failure. If that’s the case, then treating that main condition might resolve the RLS issues.
If you suffer from primary RLS, or if the problem persists after the treatment of your other health concerns, then it is important that you address and manage the disease so that you are able to provide your body with good, deep sleep. The symptoms associated with RLS can have a long-term effect on your overall health and quality of life, so it is essential that they are managed properly and consistently.
NATURAL WAYS TO MANAGE RLS
Though there may be no reliable “cure” for RLS, there are plenty of treatments, both natural and medicinal, available for the symptoms associated with the disease. Here are a few easy ways you can ease your RLS symptoms in order to achieve a good, deep sleep.
IMPROVE YOUR SLEEPING ENVIRONMENT
Creating the ideal sleeping environment can be just as important as finding the right bed. Consider changing some of these aspects to help ease your RLS symptoms.
Position. If you sleep on your side, try sleeping with a pillow between your legs. Doctors suggest that this can prevent your nerves from compressing and triggering symptoms. This sleeping position is also recommended for people with back chronic problems, so it could be a solution for a few of your sleeping concerns.
Lighting. While it is important to get as much natural light as possible during the day, it can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. Invest in blackout curtains or heavy shades to ensure your room stays dark while you are sleeping. Move electronics such as alarm clocks and digital devices away from your bedside so that these lights don’t disrupt your sleep either.
Clutter. Keeping your bedroom neat and clutter-free can help you stay relaxed as you prepare to sleep. Keep the floor space around your bed as clear as possible – if you have a bedside table, try to keep the surface as clear as possible. A cleaner room promotes a clearer mind and better sleep.
Temperature. The temperature requirements for a good nights’ sleep are different for each person, so experiment with different methods to see what works best for you. A change in bedding can be a good place to start; certain fabrics may be better suited for those looking for a bit of extra warmth, while others will help to cool you down or wick away sweat.
Putting a hot water bottle or using an electric blanket can help some people with RLS, particularly those who also suffer from muscle cramps, back pain or joint aches. Or, if you find that you are often too warm at night, try using a cool towel or ice pack when you get into bed.
MAKE A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Creating and maintaining a consistent routine before bed can go a long way toward helping people affected by RLS get to sleep faster and sleep deeper. If you can add a few of these suggestions to your bedtime routine, you may find your symptoms (and sleep) improving dramatically.
Make a sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day will help to regulate your circadian rhythm, which in turn regulates important internal processes like metabolism. If you get your body used to this routine, you will find falling asleep and waking up to be easier each time. Keeping your sleep schedule consistent can also help with other aspects of your life such as taking your medication on time and scheduling meals.
Exercise your body. As we get older, we generally become less active, leading to restlessness when we are trying to sleep. For those who are able, low-impact exercise is a good option for treating RLS symptoms and improving overall health. Activities like yoga and meditation are both recommended for people suffering from RLS, as they help tire out your body and are also known to improve mental health.
Exercise your brain. Tire your brain out by doing a mentally-challenging activity like a crossword puzzle or sudoku. If you prefer to read before bedtime, make sure you pick something that will give your brain a workout without being so engaging that you don’t want to put it down!
Be strict with your screens. Try not to use electronic devices like phones and tablets for at least one hour before bedtime. Most of these devices give off blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime and making it harder to fall sleep. If you use your phone or tablet to read e-books before you fall asleep, look into using apps that have a night mode.
WATCH WHAT (AND WHEN) YOU EAT
Diet plays an increasingly important role in our health as we grow older; however, it’s easy to overlook healthy eating when we’re not feeling our best. Speak with your doctor or visit a nutritionist to make sure your diet is providing you with the nutrients you need to manage your RLS, and think about whether you need to add or subtract any of the following from your daily routine.
Iron-rich foods. If your RLS is secondary to iron deficiency, making the right dietary choices to resolve this issue could help eliminate symptoms. Try eating iron-rich foods such as leafy greens, peas, beans, and red meat; including iron-fortified foods such as certain cereals, pasta and breads; or adding vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron, in the form of grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers to your diet.
Caffeine. Generally speaking, it is very important to monitor your caffeine intake as excess caffeine in your body can lead to drastic effects on your body’s circadian rhythm. For many people, caffeine consumption can exacerbate RLS symptoms; however, for a small percentage of people it can actually lessen symptoms. Consider your caffeine intake and whether it might be having an effect on your RLS – maybe try switching to decaf for your after-dinner cuppa to see if it provides relief.
Sugar. Food and beverages that are high in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can have a similar effect on your body as caffeine, exacerbating the symptoms of RLS. Avoiding these foods and drinks altogether is a great idea both for your RLS symptoms and your overall health. Generally speaking, older people have a difficult time digesting these foods anyway, so consuming them too close to bedtime can make it more difficult to get to sleep and make your symptoms worse.
FIND A BED AND MATTRESS THAT WORKS FOR YOU
The first step to a good nights’ sleep is finding the right materials to work with, and that means finding a bed and mattress that suit your needs. If your bed and mattress are old, lumpy and creaky, you will have difficulty making any significant changes to your sleep quality. We spend an average of one-third of our lives in bed so it’s okay to splurge a bit – considering how important sleep is to your health, the right bed is worth the investment.
If you have mobility issues, chronic circulation problems or other symptoms that make it difficult to get comfortable at night, consider buying an adjustable bed. Adjustable, electric beds help to increase circulation by allowing you to change position easily throughout the night. They also come with a fantastic massage feature that helps to stimulate blood flow to affected joints.
Use the massage feature on a low setting throughout the night, for a few minutes to help you relax before sleeping, or even to relieve stiffness before getting out of bed in the morning. This also works to soothe tight muscles, helping to relieve further RLS symptoms.
PUT YOUR RLS TO BED
Although there is no known cure for RLS, it is possible to manage your symptoms with a few simple changes to your daily routine. The first step toward getting a good nights’ sleep, however, is buying a bed that is right for you. If you are suffering from RLS we will help you craft a bed and mattress that suits your needs to ensure you a good night’s sleep! We know that it’s the small things in life that can make a big difference in the quality of our daily lives. We have spent years listening to our customers, understanding their needs and ensuring they get all the comfort they need for a good night’s sleep.
“The right mattress, materials, frame and controls make all the difference. We can craft a bed and mattress to suit your needs to ensure you enjoy maximum comfort and get your best night’s sleep.”
-Maryrose Fitzpatrick, The Natural Sleep Company.
For more information on how electric beds will help you achieve a better night’s sleep, or for advice on purchasing an adjustable bed, contact our expert team at the Natural Sleep Company today! We have decades of experience in the sleep industry and want to use it to make sure you get the best rest possible.