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This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr. Ahmed Zayed.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition affecting between 7% and 10% of Americans. While it might be only a temporary condition triggered by pregnancy or the use of certain medications, it is essential to find an appropriate solution. A change in lifestyle might be necessary, but weighted blankets can also offer some relief.
Weighted blankets can help relieve Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) as they have been seen to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety effectively. They can calm a restless body, inhibiting the urge to move. So, if you suffer from RLS, a weighted blanket can encourage stillness and promote better sleep.
While you might be affected by RLS only for a period of your life, it can be extremely disruptive and cause you to suffer from insomnia. A weighted blanket can help—Let’s see how!
What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Before understanding how a weighted blanket can help calm RLS symptoms, it is crucial to understand what this condition is, what is triggered by, and its underlying causes.
Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS, is a condition related to the nervous system that affects millions of people worldwide each year. Formally known as Willis-Ekbom disease, this condition causes you the urge to keep moving your legs, and its symptoms are particularly evident at nighttime or before going to sleep.
While doctors have identified many possible causes for this disease, the triggers are often unknown. Speaking to a trusted practitioner can always be the most recommendable solution to determine the appropriate treatment. However, there are also some home remedies – such as weighted blankets – that can help temporarily reduce the symptoms of RLS.
Two types of RLS can be affecting you:
- Primary (or idiopathic) RLS – doctors cannot identify the underlying condition triggering this disease.
- Secondary RLS – there is an evident underlying condition that triggers the restlessness. When this condition is appropriately treated, the symptoms will disappear too.
What Are the Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome?
RLS falls under two categories: nervous system disorder and sleep disorder. This is because once your limbs are affected, you might struggle to fall asleep and get the rest you need. In turn, this can become insomnia if the condition is not correctly treated.
People who are affected by RLS are also likely to experience Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS). This happens when the leg’s muscles contract and release every 30 seconds (on average) during sleep. Like RLS, this can be only a temporary condition that emerges due to a lifestyle change.
The main symptom of RLS includes unusual feelings in the legs, which can feel like:
- Urge to move the legs
When you experience these symptoms, always moving your leg can very briefly alleviate the condition, which is likely to come back in a matter of seconds.
It is worth noting that symptoms can vary significantly from patient to patient. Indeed, they are often stronger in the evenings, and they can be more or less severe during each attack. Since they tend to disappear in the morning, this is one of the only moments in which people affected can find rest.
This all makes it paramount to find a solution that alleviates your disorder at nighttime.
RLS Might Relate to How the Brain Handles Dopamine
RLS is a disorder that can affect anybody, and, as we have seen, up to 10% of Americans experience it at least once in their lifetimes.
It can affect anybody, but women are twice as likely to suffer from it, especially because it is often triggered by pregnancy.
While this condition is often misdiagnosed, research has shown that most of its possible causes are relatable to the nervous system. These include:
- Medications – treatments that impact on the nervous system (e.g., antidepressants, antipsychotics)
- Lifestyle – excessive smoking and drinking and poor nutrition
- Pregnancy – especially during the last trimester (in this case, you can expect the symptoms to go shortly after delivery)
- Genetic reasons – RLS often runs in the family
Researchers have used MRI scans to determine how dopamine in the brain impacts certain regions. Both distant and nearby regions of the brain were analyzed in these studies.
Following these findings, evidence regarding a link between dopamine and RLS has been published. In one study, it is noted that a dysfunctional dopaminergic system may lead to symptoms associated with restless leg syndrome.
Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter in charge of transmitting signals between the body and the brain. When there is a dopamine imbalance, such signals may be affected by interferences, causing you to have less control over your limb’s movement.
If Not Treated, It Can Cause Anxiety, Stress, and Insomnia
As we have seen, usually, RLS is a temporary condition bound to go away as soon as you implement necessary changes in the lifestyle or address the underlying condition.
However, if you have been suffering from it for a while, your ability to get the sleep and rest you need may also be affected.
Indeed, since symptoms are more severe at nighttime, you might struggle to fall asleep, which can turn into higher levels of stress and anxiety. In severe cases, RLS can also cause insomnia.
Do Weighted Blankets Help Restless Leg Syndrome?
If your RLS symptoms do not go away, and they are becoming worse, it is essential to speak to a doctor regarding the most suitable treatments you can undergo. Indeed, certain medications can help you restore your nervous system’s health and be a practical solution for your syndrome.
However, if you believe that the condition is triggered by a temporary condition such as pregnancy, certain home remedies can help you better deal with RLS symptoms. One of the best ones out there is a weighted blanket.
As we are about to see, these blankets can be handy in alleviating the symptoms of several diseases connected to the nervous system, especially when the symptoms are more evident at nighttime. Let’s find out more about this easy and accessible solution for RLS!
What Are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets are heavy blankets that can be purchased from a local shop or online. These blankets can vary in weight, and some of them can reach a weight of over 20 lb (9 kg). The right weighted blanket’s weight will depend on your body weight. The heavier you are, the heavier your weighted blanket should be!
You can check how to see a weighted blanket yourself in the video below or buy a commercial one online:
Many studies have shown how weighted blankets can help, and they have been seen to be useful for the treatment of ADHD and Autism. They can also be beneficial for alleviating the symptoms of insomnia.
People who experience high levels of anxiety and stress can help find a better night’s sleep.
But let’s see how they can also be a remedy to RLS.
Since RLS is a condition associated with nervous system disorders or dopamine imbalance, weighted blankets will be as useful and beneficial as treating other conditions falling under this category.
More specifically, sleeping with a weighted blanket can help you find rest from insomnia and fight the urge to keep moving your limbs and legs at night. Here’s how!
They Can Help Alleviate Insomnia
As we have seen, weighted blankets are useful in the treatment of insomnia. When severe, this condition can disrupt your daily life and represent a significant obstacle for families, individuals, students, and professionals.
Indeed, if your RLS causes insomnia, you can feel sleepier and less able to focus and concentrate during the day. However, this condition’s side effects can be much more severe, leading to anxiety, stress, and even depression.
Due to the severe mental health effects that insomnia can cause, it is essential to address your RLS before this leads to many restless nights.
Insomnia and other sleep disorders can also be caused by several different conditions, mainly related to lifestyle and other underlying disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association, over 50 million Americans are affected by it every year, and insomnia is considered the most common sleeping disorder.
This condition can also cause adverse effects on the body, including a weakening of the immune system, seizures, strokes, asthma attacks, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
As John Cline Ph.D. reports for Psychology Today, weighted blankets produce continuous and consistent sensory input and a feeling of deep pressure. These two aspects combined can promote relaxation before sleeping.
They Promote Healthy Sleep
Weighted blankets act by encouraging the production of serotonin, which, in turn, helps decrease the activity of the nervous system at nighttime. This will reduce the number of signals exchanged between the brain and the body, helping you relieve your legs’ sensations and help them remain still.
Moreover, weighted blankets are useful in aiding the body to produce melatonin.
This chemical is released by the body that can help it tune in with its natural Circadian Rhythm. Therefore, increased production of melatonin is what suggests to the body that it is time to sleep!
They Encourage Stillness
Due to the deep pressure method that weighted blankets provide, they can encourage stillness while sleeping. This is essential if you suffer from RLS, as you will have the urge to continuously move your legs and limbs. In this case, a weighted blanket can encourage you to remain still during the moments before falling asleep.
Something so simple can encourage RLS individuals to fall asleep quickly and without obstacles and maintain their position until the morning when the symptoms are commonly not as severe.
They Alleviate the Symptoms of Anxiety and Stress
Weighted blankets simulate the feeling of a comfortable hug, something that has been proved to be beneficial and useful in the treatment of mental health disorders such as stress and anxiety.
Whether these arise from our lifestyle or underlying issues, hugs – and weighted blankets – can be extremely beneficial. Indeed, the feeling of pressure and coziness will encourage the body to produce dopamine.
As we have seen above, this hormone is the one responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and your body’s muscles, including your legs. When there is an imbalance or low production of dopamine, it is more likely for you to suffer from RLS.
However, as weighted blankets encourage the production of such chemicals, your body can count on a better signal transmitting system, which, in turn, will cause your muscles to receive more precise indications. This can help you enjoy a feeling of calm, sleepiness, and restfulness.
Other Remedies That Can Help You Fight RLS
Weighted blankets can represent an easy and accessible way to find rest and sleep while dealing with RLS. However, if used alone, you are not likely to find a solution to the underlying condition triggering your leg’s movements.
For this, it is crucial to speak to your doctor, who can tell you more about what might be triggering the nighttime movements and what is the best treatment to follow for your situation. This is especially crucial is the symptoms have started to affect your sleep, and they are only getting worse.
Nonetheless, RLS may be caused by an unhealthy, stressful lifestyle – which is something that must be addressed. Therefore, aside from speaking to your doctor, some changes and routines to implement can help you turn your health around!
Introduce Yoga and Meditation in Your Routine
The Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation suggests that positive changes in your lifestyle can help you better deal with RLS. These include moderate daily exercise, including between 30 and 60 minutes of milder training.
The Foundation’s experts suggest that activities such as yoga, swimming, and cycling can be extremely beneficial in establishing better inner balance and calming RLS symptoms.
In particular, yoga has been incredibly efficient as a relaxation therapy for those with RLS. However, they advise against more extreme kinds of exercise, such as Ashtanga and Hot Yoga, which can have adverse effects.
Additionally, it is recommendable not to engage in exercise a few hours before bedtime. Indeed, if your joints and muscles are aching before going to sleep, this can worsen the condition.
Another practice worth introducing in your routine is mindful meditation. You can find guided meditations online, on apps, or through YouTube. This practice allows you to calm your mind and focus on your breathing, helping establish inner balance.
More importantly, it has been seen that meditation can increase dopamine levels in the brain – just like weighted blankets do. So, both techniques can help you achieve similar positive results.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Many of the health conditions that adults and children experience today derive from our lifestyle and routine. Indeed, a hectic lifestyle and social pressure can cause the levels of stress and anxiety to skyrocket!
And, when they do so, it is natural to see adverse effects on our general health. This includes lower sleep quality, mental health conditions, and decreased heart and immune system health.
Therefore, looking at our routine and stressors can be an excellent way to re-establish a routine that can help us feel in control of our lives and deal with any situation calmly. You are likely to see improvements not only on your RLS symptoms but also on your general health and mental well-being.
Such stressors and anxiety triggers might come from a personal situation or your professional life. In any case, visiting a specialist might help you deal better with such issues.
Get Supplements Such As Iron and Magnesium
Some symptoms of RLS can also be linked to the diet you are following. In particular, individuals with RLS have been seen to suffer from an iron or magnesium deficiency. This linking factor is something to consider when crafting a nutritional plan to address RLS symptoms.
You should introduce the best foods into your diet to limit such deficiency are spinaches, beans, and fortified cereals. However, if your blood tests have shown that you have an iron or magnesium deficiency, you might need to consider whether a consultation with a nutritionist can help.
Indeed, these experts might be able to indicate the right foods and portions to add to your diet. They might also suggest you add ingredients such as:
- Red meat
- Other dark green leafy vegetables
- Dried fruit
- Iron-fortified cereals
Additionally to these ingredients, it is also recommendable to implement a drastic change in lifestyle and reduce smoking and drinking, which are among the primary triggers for RLS. Indeed, especially if consumed just before bed, these substances can have a significant effect on your nervous system, making RLS symptoms even more severe.
RLS is a prevalent condition that affects up to 10% of American adults and can cause you to move your legs and limbs restlessly. This is much more severe at nighttime before going to sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness, insomnia, stress, and anxiety. While this condition is often just temporary and will disappear when the underlying condition is gone, a weighted blanket can help you restore your sleep quality.
Indeed, these heavy blankets have been seen effective in calming the body, encouraging stillness, and promoting the production of beneficial compounds such as dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed, MD, holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. An avid contributor to the Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune, Dr. Zayed believes in providing accurate and accessible information to general readers. With years of writing and editing content in the medical niche, Dr. Zayed likes to think of himself as a man with a mission, keeping the internet free of false medical information.
- NIH: Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet
- WebMD: Brain and Nervous System
- Wake Forest Baptist Health: Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
- PMC: Genetic aspects of restless legs syndrome
- McGovern Institute: How dopamine drives brain activity
- Harvard Medical School: Insomnia: Restoring restful sleep
- Harkla: How Heavy Should be a Weighted Blanket Be
- Thomas Jefferson University: A systematic review of the efficacy of weighted vests and blankets on people with ASD or ADHD
- ResearchGate: Positive effects of a weighted blanket on insomnia
- Harvard Medical School: Anxiety and stress weighing heavily at night? A new blanket might help
- American Psychiatric Association: What Are Sleep Disorders?
- Psychology Today: Weighted Blankets Can Help with Insomnia
- Healthline: Serotonin: What You Need to Know
- WebMD: Melatonin
- Wikipedia: Circadian Rhythm
- RLSF: Lifestyle
- PMC: Efficacy of an Eight-Week Yoga Intervention on Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): A Pilot Study
- StatPearls: Restless Leg Syndrome