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Wondering about the benefits of weighted blankets for Restless Leg Syndrome?
An often misunderstood condition, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is thought to affect as many as 1 in 10 people in the US and the UK.
Often accompanied by leg twitching and discomfort, RLS causes an irresistible urge to move the legs.
Here’s a definition from Restless Leg Syndrome UK:
“Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological disorder characterised by an irresistible urge to move to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. As it usually interferes with sleep, it is also considered a sleep disorder.”
As a ‘spectrum’ disorder, Restless Legs Syndrome causes only mild symptoms for some, but for others the condition can prove intolerable, leading to sleepless nights and contributing to stress and anxiety.
Whilst a range of medical and non medical treatments exist for Restless Legs Syndrome, the therapeutic deep touch pressure of a weighted blanket has become an increasingly popular way to help naturally ease some of the common symptoms of restless legs.
Below, we’ll look in more detail at the typical symptoms and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome, as well as how using a weighted blanket may help.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome
Whilst research data suggests Restless Legs Syndrome is prevalent in children and adolescents, it can start at any age. Affecting both men and women, it’s most commonly seen in women over the age of 40.
The most common symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome include:
- an overwhelming urge to move your legs
- an uncomfortable tingling, burning, itching or throbbing sensation
- painful cramping in the legs, particularly in the calves.
According to the NHS more than 80% of people with Restless Legs Syndrome also experience involuntary jerking of the legs (and sometimes arms) – something known as periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS).
It’s common for restless leg symptoms to occur in the late afternoon or evening, with symptoms often most severe at night or when a person is inactive for a period of time.
Restless Legs Syndrome can severely affect sleep, leading to tiredness or even exhaustion, as well as affect mood, concentration and overall quality of life.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
Whilst Restless Legs Syndrome can sometimes be related to an underlying heath condition, such as iron deficiency or kidney failure, there’s often no obvious cause.
Where the cause is unknown, restless leg symptoms may worsen over time and lead to sleeping problems, anxiety, poor concentration and tiredness.
Evidence does suggest, however, that Restless Legs Syndrome may be related to how the body handles dopamine; a chemical involved in muscle movement.
In cases of RLS, dopamine levels are often low. Dopamine levels also naturally fall towards the end of the day, which may account for symptoms being worse at night.
There’s also a link between restless legs and pregnancy. It’s thought around out 1 in 5 pregnant women will experience symptoms in the last 3 months of their pregnancy, although it’s not clear exactly why this is.
In such cases, Restless Legs Syndrome usually disappears once the woman has given birth.
Whilst no single test for Restless Legs Syndrome exists, a GP should be able to diagnose RLS, based on symptoms, medical and family history, a physical examination and test results.
Treatment of Restless Legs
According to the NHS, mild symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome, which aren’t linked to any underlying health conditions, can often be managed with some simple lifestyle changes.
These might include:
- avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine or alcohol, in the evening
- not smoking
- regular daily exercise (whilst avoiding exercise at bedtime)
- good sleep habits, such as relaxing prior to bed
- avoiding RLS triggers, such as stress or certain medications.
Your GP may recommend medication where symptoms are worse or where RLS is linked to an underlying condition.
Weighted Blankets For Restless Legs Syndrome
Can’t sleep because of restless legs? Whether it’s involuntary twitching, a tingling sensation or cramping, restless legs can lead to sleepless nights and exhaustion during the day.
Whilst you should always treat restless legs in consultation with a medical professional, many people with Restless Legs Syndrome have turned to the therapeutic effects of weighted blankets to help stop restless legs before bed, as well as through the night.
How do weighted blankets work?
Heavier than regular blankets, weighted blankets contain micro glass beads or plastic poly pellets sewn into ‘pockets’ inside the blanket, to give the blanket extra weight.
This extra weight applies a gentle deep touch stimulation on the user, which research suggests helps the body release ‘feel good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, hormones linked with relaxation and sleep.
Dopamine also plays a key part in movement and muscle control.
This deep touch stimulation may help people with Restless Legs Syndrome both relieve their restless legs and get better quality sleep. In fact, this lady found weighted blankets brought her almost immediate relief.
“I have been suffering with restless leg syndrome (RLS) for over 3 years. …when I placed the blanket on my leg, within minutes, I had relief. Now I own a small weighted blanket and it does the trick every time.” (source).
Best weighted blankets for restless legs
Whilst there’s no ‘best’ weighted blanket as such for restless legs, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing one.
Most importantly, you need the correct blanket weight for your size. For adults, the ‘rule of thumb’ used by healthcare professionals is 10% of your ideal body weight.
For children it’s 10% of the ideal body weight, plus 1 or 2 pounds.
Choice of fabric is also important. So, if you’re legs are prone to getting hot at night, it’s best to avoid weighted blankets made from man-made fibres such as Minky Dot fleece or polyester, as they don’t breath well.
Instead choose weighted blankets made from natural fabrics, such as 100% cotton or bamboo based fibres.
Keep in mind as well, if you don’t like having your whole body covered, you might want to consider a smaller weighted lap blanket, or lap pad, so you can just use the blanket on your legs.
Do Weighted Blankets Always Work For Restless Legs?
Many people find weighted blankets an immense help in the relief of symptoms associated with Restless Legs Syndrome. Others, however, simply can’t handle the added pressure on their legs. So whether a weighted blanket works for you will always be a personal thing.
Restless Legs Syndrome is also a complex condition and whilst neurologists believe it may be linked to low levels of dopamine, (which the gentle pressure of weighted blankets may encourage the body to release) this is by no means the only factor involved.
So if you’re uncertain about whether a weighted blanket for restless legs is right for you, consider borrowing one or look for a blanket with a good returns policy. You could also try making your own DIY blanket at home.
Other Natural Treatments For RLS
Lifestyle changes, or treatments, related to Restless Legs Syndrome should always be made in consultation with a doctor, but you can find some non medical treatment options for Restless Legs Syndrome on the RLS-UK website here.
The NHS suggests the following measures may help relieve restless leg symptoms:
- massaging your legs
- taking a warm bath in the evening before bed
- applying a hot or cold compress to your leg muscles
- doing relaxing activities, such as meditation, or yoga.
Restless Legs Syndrome is a neurological condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs.
A complex condition, often with no obvious cause, you should always seek professional medical advice when diagnosing and treating Restless Legs Syndrome.
However, if you’re looking for a natural way to help relieve some of the symptoms of RLS, the therapeutic deep touch pressure of a weighted blanket may help to sooth and stop restless legs before bed.
For many people with Restless Legs Syndrome, this leads to a much needed sounder night’s sleep.
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