Are Your Legs Keeping You Up at Night? Natural Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

Are Your Legs Keeping You Up at Night? Natural Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

When you’re in bed, do you ever have the urge to move your legs, and do your leg muscles twitch or spasm if you don’t adjust them? If you have a bed partner—have they ever complained about you kicking your legs or constantly moving while you’re asleep?

If you said yes to these questions, you might have restless leg syndrome (RLS). Learn more about this common condition from our board-certified experts in dental sleep medicine and sleep solutions.

Defining Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a sensorimotor neurological disorder characterized by compulsive periodic leg movements, cramping, and discomfort. Typically, RLS symptoms flare up for patients when they are tired and sitting or lying down. RLS tends to present at night before bed or during sleep, causing restless and sleepless nights.

Varieties of RLS

There are two main types of RLS.

  • Primary Idiopathic RLS: This form of RLS can develop at any stage of life (even in childhood), tends to progress or worsen throughout life, and is idiopathic (lacks an apparent direct cause). 
  • Potential risk factors or correlations include smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, iron deficiency, genetic predisposition, increases in estrogen or progesterone, and thyroid imbalances. 
  • Secondary RLS: Unlike primary/idiopathic RLS, secondary RLS has identifiable triggers, many of which are comorbid (simultaneously occurring) health conditions that cause infection and inflammation. The most prevalent comorbidities linked to secondary RLS are insomnia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), and End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). 
  • Other secondary RLS triggers include psychotropic medications for psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression and antihistamine medications.

Signs & Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

Symptoms and other experiences that indicate RLS include:

  • Inflammatory cramping, pain, and discomfort in the legs offer temporary relief when you adjust positions
  • Periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS)
  • Insomnia: Restless leg syndrome ranks fourth as the leading cause of insomnia
  • Iron deficiency: Iron deficiency is widespread among RLS patients. Some research suggests that patients’ bodies produce excess hepcidin hormone, potentially impacting iron concentration, absorption, and dispersion in their blood supply. 
  • Vitamin D deficiency


Patients with RLS can often self-diagnose, seek treatment, and manage symptoms without needing a formal diagnosis. There are no special tests for RLS; you either experience the symptoms or you don’t.

It is not impossible to experience RLS-like symptoms when you “don’t really have it” due to some other underlying cause. The symptomatology of RLS can mimic arthritis or diabetic neuropathy and the secondary variety of this condition is often considered co-morbid (commonly co-occurring) with various other conditions.

RLS Treatment and Symptom Management

Is There a Cure for RLS?

Although there is no permanent cure for primary restless leg syndrome, both traditional and natural treatments can make symptoms much more tolerable.

Secondary RLS is directly related to several conditions, so treating those comorbid conditions will be the most influential factor in improving RLS symptoms and symptom management. 

Traditional and Natural Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

Iron deficiency supplementation is standard in traditional and natural treatments for restless leg syndrome. Let’s explore other conventional and natural approaches:

Traditional Medicine


Dopaminergic agents were once the most common traditional pharmacological approach for more chronic RLS cases. Still, most modern practitioners agree that this treatment type contradicts recent research suggesting high dopamine levels worsen RLS.

Nowadays, the more common pharmaceutical drug class used in RLS treatment is gabapentinoids (calcium channel alpha-2-delta ligands), which balance out the brain’s calcium levels to encourage optimal activity of neurons and neurotransmitters. As a result of taking these medications, RLS patients tend to sleep better and experience fewer mid-sleep compulsory leg movements.

Benzodiazepines, ketamine, and opioids are the other drug classes from which physicians may prescribe medications to treat RLS. Considering the dramatic relief and quick tolerance development associated with these medications, they pose a risk of habit-forming and addiction for patients; for this reason, they are only prescribed for short periods at low doses. 

Since a patient can only be prescribed medications temporarily, using over-the-counter and natural methods whenever possible often helps the most.


Over-the-counter treatments include pills and topicals that target inflammation and relieve pain, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, and pain-relieving patches. However, you need to moderate the frequency of NSAIDs according to what’s labeled or as often as directed by your physician.

Natural Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

Overuse of pharmaceutical or over-the-counter drugs often leads to analgesic rebound headaches, also known as medication-overuse headaches (MOH). A natural approach to restless leg syndrome can offer relief without this risk. Natural treatments for restless leg syndrome include:

  • Try supplements: iron, vitamin E, pycnogenol, folic acid, theanine, wild lettuce, magnesium, and turmeric. Each has benefits for RLS patients.
  • Calming muscle contractions through a low dose of quinine like drinking a glass of tonic water before bed
  • Taking warm baths before bedtime
  • Massage balm, lotion, or spray containing magnesium onto the legs
  • Using a heating pad on the legs and lower back

Additional Advice

Apart from treatment and pain relief, there are a few habits you can change or adopt to help improve the frequency and severity of your RLS symptoms. These include eating a diet high in protein, exercising daily, avoiding late-night meals and snacks, avoiding caffeine, regulating your sleep schedule, and maintaining a cool and comfortable sleep environment.

When to See a Specialist

Important note: Restless leg syndrome can be caused by sleep apnea. You should always go in for a sleep test if you’re struggling with RLS to rule out if it is caused by sleep apnea.

You should consider seeing a specialist in sleep solutions if you have RLS symptoms and:

  • You want a professional to confirm your suspicions with a formal diagnosis
  • You need to know more about your specific type of RLS
  • You want a custom, comprehensive treatment plan
  • You need to know if your RLS is linked to a serious condition. 
  • You just want some sleep!

Individuals in Alabama looking for a dental sleep medicine expert to provide any of the above care options for RLS are in luck—we specialize in sleep treatment at TMJ & Sleep Solutions of Alabama!

We are passionate about providing excellent care for sleep and pain, and we accept new patients. It is easy to make an appointment to begin treatment at our clinic. Please call (205) 874-9699 or contact us online!