Does a Weighted Blanket Help with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
Some people describe it as an unpleasant crawling, creeping, or pulling feeling. Others say it’s an uncomfortable throbbing, aching, itching, or electric tingling sensation inside their legs.
Whatever the feeling, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes people to have an uncontrollable urge to move their legs. Also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, this neurologic, sensorimotor, sleep-related movement disorder affects people in a variety of ways.
- The sensations most often begin at bedtime. Most people with RLS experience the symptoms at night when they’ve been lying down awhile.
- Sometimes people experience symptoms during the day. Sitting for long periods of time in a car, movie theater, or on an airplane can also bring on the sensations.
- Moving temporarily helps relieve the feeling. If you’re in bed at night, stretching or jiggling your legs can lessen the sensations. If you have them during the day, pacing or walking can make you feel better.
Because these persistent symptoms typically come on at night, the condition can profoundly disrupt a person’s sleep and daily life.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
RLS affects approximately one in ten, or 5% to 10% of American adults. RLS can develop at any age, even during childhood. The older you get, the more likely you are to experience it. The disorder is more common in women than in men and can be influenced by a variety of things, including:
- Genetics, RLS sometimes runs in families, especially if symptoms appear before the age of 40.
- Pregnancy, According to EveryDayHealth.com, 33% of pregnant women experience RLS symptoms -- many for the first time -- especially during their last trimester. Fortunately, in these first-time cases the symptoms usually go away after the baby is born. Women who had RLS before getting pregnant may find that their symptoms temporarily get worse.
- Menopause, While menopause doesn’t cause RLS, it can aggravate it. One study found that 69% of post-menopausal women with RLS reported that their symptoms were worse than before menopause. Researcher think estrogen helps muscles relax, so as estrogen declines during menopause, so does that natural muscle relaxant.
- Diabetes, Damage to the nerves in the hands or feet , also known as peripheral neuropathy, caused by chronic diabetes can also cause RLS. Alcoholism can also cause this kind of damage.
- Iron Deficiency, Low iron levels, even without anemia, can bring on RLS or make it worse. If you are a frequent blood donor, have a history heavy menstrual periods, or stomach or bowel bleeding you may have iron deficiency.
- Kidney Failure, Decreased iron levels and other changes in body chemistry caused by poorly functioning kidneys may trigger or intensify RLS symptoms.
- Spinal Cord Conditions, If you’ve had a back injury, lesions caused by damage to your spinal may be causing RLS. Spinal blocks or other spinal cord anesthesia can also increase your chances of developing RLS.
- Caffeine Coffee, energy drinks, tea and soft-drinks can contain high levels of this proven stimulant. Drinking too much can rile up your nervous system and cause restless legs.
- Prescription and Non-Prescription Drugs, Antihistamines, cold remedies, anti-nausea drugs, and prescription antidepressants can block dopamine – a neurotransmitter that helps you relax – and cause RLS. If you suspect drugs might be the culprit, be sure to talk to your doctor.
- Sugar Cutting, back on sweets and sugar seems to reduce the symptoms of RLS.
- Temperature, Both cold weather and heat and humidity can trigger RLS in some people.
- Intense Exercise, Training for a marathon, using heavy weights on a leg press, or bicycling long distances can cause RLS symptoms.
What are the treatments for RLS?
Although most adults who have RLS only experience occasional tingling or discomfort, the National Sleep Foundation reports that about 1 in 500 say that the condition is severe and chronic enough to negatively impact their quality of life. Long-term effects of even mild cases of RLS include fatigue, anxiety and depression, much of it due to the repeated interruption of deep sleep. So, finding effective ways to reliably tamp down the symptoms is essential.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, stretching your legs provides immediate, short term relief. During the daytime, taking a walk may be all that’s needed. But at bedtime, when you want to settle in, having to constantly move your legs to get rid of the uncomfortable creepy crawler sensations isn’t conducive to getting a good night’s sleep.
So, what are your options?
Considering some the possible causes of Restless Legs Syndrome, points to solutions, including
Addressing Health Conditions. Sometimes treating or better managing an underlying health conditions such as iron deficiency, diabetes, kidney failure can reduce the frequency or intensity of RLS episodes. Naturally these strategies will need to be led and monitored by your physician.
Taking Medication. There are a number of drugs that your doctor can prescribe to reduce the restlessness in your legs. It may take a while to find the right medication or medications that work for you. Depending on how you’re reacting, your physician may adjust, change, or discontinue your prescription for one or more of the following:
- Calcium Channel Drugs like gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise), gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant) and pregabalin (Lyrica), have been shown to work for some people with RLS.
- Dopamine-Increasing Drugs that affect the levels of this neurotransmitter include Ropinirole (Requip), rotigotine (Neupro) and pramipexole (Mirapex) have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of moderate to severe RLS.
- Opioids are narcotic medications such as tramadol (Ultram, Conzip), codeine, oxycodone, (Oxycontin, Rozicodone, others) and hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER). These drugs can lessen mild to sever symptoms. However, use caution as they may be addicting if you rake in high doses.
- Muscle relaxants and sleeping pills which, although they can help you sleep better at night, they don't eliminate the leg sensations and can cause daytime drowsiness. These medications are generally used as a last resort if no other treatment provides RLS relief.
Making Life Style Changes. This is the simplest place to start. Based on some of the possible triggers for RLS symptoms many are easy to implement, including:
- Warm baths and massages can relax your muscles.
- Warm or cold packs or alternating between the two, may reduce the tingling sensations.
- Dietary changes including cutting back on sugar and caffeine can be good for your overall health as well as your RLS.
- Foot wraps that are specifically designed for people with RLS apply pressure under your foot that may help relieve symptoms.
- Good sleeping practices that include a room that is cool and quiet. Going to bed at and waking up at the same time every day. And trying to get at least seven hours of sleep nightly.
- Weighted Blankets can calm and soothe the mind as well as the nerves and muscles in your legs and help promote deep, restorative sleep.
What are the benefits of weighted blankets for Restless Legs Syndrome?
Wary of drugs? Love coffee and chocolate too much to ever give them up? Climbing into bed with an ice-pack doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to get to sleep?
You may want to give a heavy weighted blanket a try.
Unlike many of the other suggested remedies which only address one aspect of RLS or have worrisome side effects, weighted blankets for adults and weighted blankets for kids offer a variety of proven benefits and are incredibly enjoyable to drift off to sleep under.
Let’s start with the “good mood chemicals”. Washable weighted blankets have been shown to cause the release of serotonin and dopamine that some of the above-mentioned prescription drugs provide. The effects of these two neurotransmitters can reduce agitation and make you feel more serene, peaceful, and relaxed.
Then there’s something called deep tissue pressure (DTP) that cool weighted blankets provide. It’s known in therapeutic circles as “earthing” or “grounding”. DTP uses firm but gentle pressure to increase circulation and relax muscles as well as increase the production of those beneficial neurotransmitters.
The physical weight of the heavy blanket itself can help ease muscle spasms and keep your legs still while surrounding you with the intensely pleasurable and soothing sensation of being gently “hugged”.
That DTP sensation has been shown to help reduce the physiological arousal associated with anxiety by acting on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have confirmed that reduced level of certain neurotransmitters caused by stress and anxiety is a major factor in aggravating Restless Leg Syndrome symptoms.
Which kind weighted blanket for Restless Legs Syndrome is right for you?
Typically, weighted blankets should be about 10% of a person’s body weight in order to provide the greatest benefit. Which is why 10 lb weighted blanket, 15 lb weighted blanket, or 20 lb weighted blanket options are pretty popular options.
While the weight of ta heavy blanket can help physically still the legs of a person with RLS and calm the mind, some can’t tolerate pressure on top of their legs. If you’re one of them, you might look into lighter versions of cool weighted blankets to see whether you can find one that is comfortable. Using it with just a sheet rather than with other blankets added on, may be all it takes to work.
Although living – and trying to sleep – with RLS can be challenging, the good news is that there are a variety of things you can do to ease and manage it. A weighted blanket is one of them. It’s a natural solution that can help calm your body and your mind so you can get the good night’s sleep you need to live your best life.