Restless legs at night are driving me mad
March 29, 2018 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I realize that sleepless nights are *great* practice for having a newborn, which I'll have in a few months, but I'm pregnant and need relief from the RLS I've developed. I've asked my doctor, but can't stomach the magnesium oxide supplements she suggested.* I'm curious what has worked for others who have been (or are currently) in the pregnant-with-RLS-boat.

* She's on vacation, and I'll consult with her when she's back. The consulting physician was unfamiliar with restless leg syndrome.
posted by onecircleaday to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, restless legs are the worst. I'm 7 months and I have them some nights too. Honestly, now that I'm past the first trimester I have a benzo prescription for something else and I'll take a tiny amount if that if I'm trying to sleep and my legs are bothering me. I find the sensation utterly unbearable. Other than that, I wonder if using a tens machine on your legs just before bed would work. I bet it would.
posted by kitcat at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2018

I used to get this terribly as a child and my Dad swore that quinine helped... commonly found in tonic water.

Not sure is this is advisable while you're pregnant or not but just a suggestion that worked for me!
posted by JenThePro at 1:56 PM on March 29, 2018

I get this sometimes due to other medical issues and it's awful. Hot or cold under my legs helps a lot. A warm or cold shower. A heating pad or a cold pack. I was taking lots of showers at like 11pm.
posted by mochapickle at 2:00 PM on March 29, 2018

Doesn't potassium work on this as well as magnesium? Try eating a banana or two before bedtime?
posted by sexyrobot at 2:11 PM on March 29, 2018

I have to take large amounts of magnesium every day and went thru several formulations before discovering that magnesium citrate did not mess up my stomach like the oxide, etc.
posted by congen at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding magnesium citrate (I used Natural Calm when I was pregnant and restless)
posted by lizifer at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Putting a bar of soap under the bottom sheet may keep restless legs from acting up."
posted by Carol Anne at 2:46 PM on March 29, 2018

Thirding Natural Calm, it's gentle on the system and works really well. I rely on it even when not pregnant!
posted by Knicke at 2:50 PM on March 29, 2018

Slippery elm helps with this and with 3rd trimester heartburn/reflux as a bonus.
posted by OnefortheLast at 3:23 PM on March 29, 2018

My RLS is not pregnancy-related (I do not have a uterus), so your mileage may vary, but having my dog sleep on my legs really seems to help. He's on the bed anyway, and usually doesn't put up a fight if I drape him over my legs.

On those nights when he would rather cuddle with my wife (the little traitor), a pile of pillows or blankets has almost the same effect. I don't know if it's the weight or the warmth, but I think it's the weight.
posted by curiousgene at 3:29 PM on March 29, 2018

Magnesium oxide will give most people diarrhea at the doses needed for RLS. Get a form of magnesium that's chelated: magnesium gluconate, magnesium citrate, magnesium malate. The upside of chelated forms is also that they're far better absorbed by your body, so they both work much better AND don't give you horrible diarrhea. Whole Foods or a health food store should have multiple choices of a chelated magnesium. Read the label, because some shady companies label theirs as chelated, but magnesium oxide is still in the formulation. I have taken large doses of chelated magnesium (800 mg) with no issues. Adding potassium to the mix also helps. I use Morton's Lite Salt (50/50 sodium and potassium salt) as 1/4 tsp is equivalent to several potassium tablets. Much easier and economical. It's in a narrow, cylindrical paper container near the regular salt in the grocery store.

You can also buy magnesium oil (Amazon has it) that you can rub directly into your legs.
posted by quince at 3:39 PM on March 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'll recommend Natural Calm, too. I get restless legs, and also deal with muscle soreness from grappling, and this stuff is pretty decent at getting me to sleep. I used to take something better, called Iron Dream, but apparently the manufacturer had some unethical practices and got forced out of business.

(When you're not pregnant, and in a state that permits it, I find that cannabis indica + advil helps a lot at night, too.)
posted by bashos_frog at 3:59 PM on March 29, 2018

I find that my RLS is almost completely eliminated by meditating in a cross-legged pose (doesn't have to be Lotus) for 20 minutes right before bed. Stretching my quads and hamstrings before bed or when symptoms get bad can also help.
posted by BrashTech at 4:35 PM on March 29, 2018

I have a 3 month old and got terrible restless legs in my third trimester. The thing that worked for me sounds strange but it worked, so feel free to try it! Just before bed, I would put a generous layer of Vicks VapoRub on the bottom of my feet and then put socks over that. It cut that horrible twitchy feeling down so much. Maybe it increased circulation?

I didn't find any effect from magnesium.
posted by sadmadglad at 5:27 PM on March 29, 2018

Are you anemic/low ferritin? Both are common in pregnancy and RLS is a common consequence of both.
posted by mrmurbles at 6:12 PM on March 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding mrmurbles. My RLS in pregnancy was resolved by taking an iron supplement.
posted by amro at 7:01 PM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Magnesium oxide will give almost everyone diarrhea!

I'd suggest going with magnesium citrate, my doctor told me it is much better absorbed by the body (and much less likely to cause diarrhea) than other forms of magnesium.

I like Swisse Ultiboost Magnesium, but any magnesium citrate will do.

You can take up to 4 x 150 mg magnesium, but I'd suggest starting with one tablet to see how it affects you.
posted by Murderbot at 8:28 PM on March 29, 2018

I have suffered from RLS, still do on occasion. Heaven only knows why I get RLS(certainly not from pregnancy!) on occasion but I do and it's awful and I feel your frustration.

The Best relief I've found is hot water. I'll sit on the edge of the tub and spray my legs with the shower thing, being careful not to burn myself. It feels great and it relieves the RLS long enough for me to get back to sleep. It's worth a try. Also a massage gives relief if you have a nice partner who is willing.

Good luck to you onecircleaday
posted by james33 at 7:25 AM on March 30, 2018

Thirding mrmurbles. Note that a regular "anemia check" (CBC) doesn't include ferritin, which is a marker of total iron storage among other things; you would need an iron panel to assess ferritin. I've not heard of magnesium, potassium, or quinine as a treatment for RLS (they work great for daytime/activity related cramps though!) but iron works well for a lot of people especially if ferritin is low. Better absorbed if taken with vitamin C; less well absorbed if taken with calcium or milk.

Here is the RLS fact sheet from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
posted by basalganglia at 8:52 AM on March 30, 2018

I've been coping with RLS for... ugh, decades.

Non-pharmacological techniques that I've found helpful:
  • microwaveable heating pads / flexible gel ice packs (I wrap them in pillowcases and take them to bed with me)
  • hot shower or (better) bath before bed (the drop in body temperature after helps with sleep too)
  • keeping the bedroom temperature cool at night
  • prioritizing sleep (sleep deprivation makes my RLS worse - it's a vicious cycle)
  • good "sleep hygiene" to improve the quality of the sleep I am managing to get
  • wearing knee high socks to bed
  • moderate exercise during the day
  • taking a walk just before bedtime
  • avoiding caffeine
  • avoiding medications known to make RLS worse (e.g. anti-histamines, anti-nausea medications, etc.)
  • massage (I have a foam roller and an electric massager)
  • distraction (phone games, puzzles, or if I'm trying to fall asleep audio books or meditation tapes)
  • sitting cross-legged whenever possible (can massage my calf with my opposite foot)
  • stress-management (stress makes it worse! I practice yoga and meditation whenever possible)

Definitely get your iron/ferritin levels checked. Normal ferritin levels are considered to be 12 to 300 µg/L, but you can be in that "normal" range and still have levels that are causing or exacerbating RLS. If your ferritin is below ~75 µg/L (and especially if you're below 50 µg/L) then iron supplementation, either oral or IV might do wonders for you. IV iron isn't as scary as it sounds and it gets your levels up much much faster than oral supplements can. Taking oral iron supplements with orange juice or a vitamin C tablet will increase absorption. Oral iron is also known to frequently cause gastro-intestinal symptoms, but there are things that can be done to manage that.

Putting a bar of soap at the foot of the bed is a folk remedy for leg cramps with no medical evidence to support it. Probably placebo effect.

Quinine is an old treatment for leg cramps that is now actively discouraged because its benefits are not considered worth the health risks. Tonic water does contain quinine, but you would need to drink ludicrously large quantities to get a therapeutic amount.

RLS as a condition hasn't gotten a lot of medical attention so there are a lot of word-of-mouth remedies out there. Some of them are useless but harmless, but others are potentially harmful, so do be cautious.

Bit of an overview on RLS during pregnancy:
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Restless legs syndrome and pregnancy: A review
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:16 AM on March 30, 2018

Thank you, everyone. I tried magnesium citrate and it's the first decent night's sleep I've had in months. I didn't realize how bad the RLS actually was until I tried this. The side effects remain to be seen, but so far it's tolerable. Much better than sleep deprivation.

That fact sheet is really interesting. I was on Wellbutrin when I was younger and the RLS was absolutely unbearable from that; must have been the dopamine.

For those who tried magnesium citrate - just curious - how much did you take, and how many times per day? I followed the directions on the bottle but I'm wondering if splitting it up might help symptoms during the day.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:20 AM on March 30, 2018

magnesium l-threonate is another form of magnesium that for me has worked even better than magnesium citrate (although it's not as easy to find in stores, but you can get it on amazon or whatnot) and seems to have zero side effects. taking the dosage on the bottle (which i guess works out to about 4000mg of magnesium) right before bed + foam rolling + viparita karani ("legs up the wall" pose) + sometimes CBD = my perfect combo for an RLS-free night. i've been on SSRIs for years and it took me ages to figure out my awful leg sensations at night were actually RLS as a result of the medication. i can't imagine trying to sleep without magnesium now
posted by burgerrr at 4:50 PM on March 30, 2018

Chiming in to corroborate the low ferritin + RLS while pregnant story. It was true for both my pregnancies, and having bad RLS at night was a good indication I needed to take some extra supplements (this after already getting IV iron both times). Definitely get checked!
posted by olinerd at 5:47 PM on March 30, 2018

I'm chronically anemic (I get regular Feraheme infusions) and the restless legs are how I know it's time to go in for a session in the iron chair.
posted by mmmPurple at 6:21 PM on March 30, 2018

I have to take 600 mg/day (for something that is not RLS). I increased to this dose over 3 weeks and I take 300 mg with breakfast, 150 with lunch, and 150 with dinner.
posted by congen at 10:08 PM on April 5, 2018

« Older Good Friday, Easter lunch in Spanish household...   |   Was I being condescending when I said this? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments