Can you use magnesium for restless legs syndrome? If you’ve heard that supplementing with magnesium can ease the symptoms of RLS, you may be wondering how it works and whether magnesium is a safe, effective treatment.
Read on to learn how magnesium calms this uncomfortable condition.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
RLS is a disorder of the part of the nervous system that affects movements of the legs. For most, it occurs most at nighttime, so RLS is considered a sleep movement disorder.
Also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, RLS affects between 5% and 10% of the Canadian population.
It is said that RLS is a “…neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself” and that in serious cases could lead to depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS is characterized by discomfort deep in the legs and nearly irresistible urges to move them, which can become very disruptive to sleep. These unpleasant sensations can include aching, throbbing, pulling, itching, jumping, crawling, or creeping in the legs.
The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to intolerable.
RLS symptoms usually occur when patients have been inactive for periods of time, as well as in the late afternoon or evening, and especially at night when patients are sitting or lying in bed.
RLS can be experienced on only one side of the body, and symptoms can occasionally switch sides. Usually, RSL affects both sides of the body.
RLS and Sleep Disruption
At its extreme, RLS makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
While activity (walking or moving the legs) does temporarily relieve the unpleasant RLS sensations, the symptoms tend to return as soon as movement stops. Because such movement diminishes symptoms, patients often toss and turn in bed, or keep their legs in constant motion while sitting and standing.
Moderately severe cases are usually characterized by symptoms about twice a week with minimal although noticeable sleep disruption, and as a result, slightly impaired daytime function.
In severe cases, the RLS sufferer will experience symptoms that heavily disrupt sleep more than twice a week.
As a result of RLS-impaired sleep, patients report difficulty concentrating, weakened memory, and failure to complete everyday tasks. Without treatment, moderate to severe RLS can cause a 20% decrease in work productivity.
Progress of RLS Over Time
Although patients do sometimes have periods of remission when symptoms will suddenly lessen and improve for some time, the majority of people will experience their symptoms worsening over time.
Those who have RLS in addition to another related medical condition often develop symptoms quite quickly. Those who don’t generally experience a very slow progression of symptoms over years, from experiencing occasional to more regular RLS.
Unfortunately, as we age, symptoms of RLS can become more regular and longer-lasting. For about 60% of people with RLS, both the frequency and the intensity can worsen over time.
Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome can plague anyone at any time, but studies suggest that women are more likely to experience RLS.
In most cases, the causes of RLS are unknown. However, particular gene variants are related to the disease and there are a number of potential causes or contributing factors.
Evidence suggests that RLS could be related to an issue or dysfunction of dopamine in the part of the brain that regulates controlled movement. The involuntary movements of RLS may indicate that dopamine pathways are obstructed.
In some cases, RLS can be accompanied or aggravated by the following underlying conditions:
- Use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
- Pregnancy, especially in the last trimester; in most cases, symptoms usually disappear within 4 weeks after delivery
- Iron deficiency
- Magnesium deficiency (which is why doctors recommend magnesium for Restless Legs Syndrome)
- Some sleeping conditions can aggravate the symptoms of RLS
- Certain medications that may aggravate RLS symptoms, such as antinausea drugs (e.g. prochlorperazine or metoclopramide), antipsychotic drugs (e.g., haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives), antidepressants that increase serotonin (e.g., fluoxetine or sertraline), and some cold and allergy medications that contain older antihistamines (e.g., diphenhydramine)
- End-stage renal disease and hemodialysis
- Neuropathy (nerve damage)
We will discuss the role of magnesium in RLS further below, and explain why addressing low magnesium can relieve symptoms. It is interesting to note that several of these causes are related to low magnesium.
Consuming alcohol, caffeine and nicotine deplete nutrients, including magnesium. Pregnancy increases our need for this essential mineral, and several medications are known to deplete magnesium.
Conditions Similar to RLS
There are a few sleep conditions that can easily be confused with Restless Legs Syndrome.
Periodic limb movements
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is characterized by uncontrolled episodes of simple but repeated movements of the muscles.
Periodic movements don’t trigger any change in the body position, unlike RLS. Instead, this condition leads to the flexing and tightening of muscles mostly in the lower portions of the legs.
These movements may not prevent you from falling asleep; however, they can constantly disrupt sleep. If you have periodic limb movements, you can be extremely tired when you wake up the next morning.
PLMD treatments are similar to those of RLS.
Sleep leg cramps
Leg cramps at night are intense feelings of pain and discomfort in the foot and leg, caused by uncontrollable contractions of muscles.
Leg cramps can occur whether you are awake or asleep. People who experience leg cramps (common in pregnancy) cite being woken with intense pain.
These cramps can be relieved by:
- Massaging the area of the cramp
- Moving the affected leg
- Applying heat to muscles
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine, both of which dehydrate
Magnesium can help with leg cramps — as evidenced by the number of Natural Calm users who testify to relief from cramping.
Sleep rhythmic movement
Sleep rhythmic movement disorder (RMD) primarily occurs in children and is characterized by repeated movements of the body during periods of sleep or drowsiness. This condition can lead to banging and rolling of the head as well as body rocking. Rhythmic humming and various other sounds can occur with the movement and these can be extremely loud.
RMD is very common in infants and young children because of the way the human sleep process develops. It’s less common in older children. Generally, children don’t need treatment but if the movements are disturbing the child, interfering with the child’s sleep, or causing injuries, medication may be prescribed.
It makes sense to also look at natural, nutritional therapies to calm the nervous system and promote good sleep. We’ll discuss these below.
Prescription Treatments for RLS
Some of the suggested pharmaceutical solutions for RLS include benzodiazepines, opioids – heavy-duty narcotics designed for pain relief – anti-epileptics, and dopamine agonists.
All of these methods must be used only at the recommendation of a doctor and with caution. They can all have adverse effects if used improperly or for a prolonged amount of time.
Dopaminergic agents, in particular, can have unexpected side effects. With chronic use, they can begin to become less effective, and symptoms can start to present themselves more regularly until they are constantly present.
Another potential effect of dopamine that some patients experience is to develop impulsive or obsessive behaviours — like obsessive gambling or shopping.
Thankfully, both these effects can be reversed by stopping all dopamine-related medications entirely.
Opioids such as codeine, hydrocodone, and methadone are sometimes used to treat patients with more serious RLS symptoms, who do not respond to other forms of treatment.
Benzodiazepines like clonazepam and lorazepam are prescribed to help patients get more restful sleep, but are not usually the first choice based on their side effects. Even if only taken in the evenings, these medications can result in daytime fatigue and reduced energy and concentration ability.
Natural Treatments for RLS
For mild to moderate RLS cases, it makes sense to first consider natural treatments. Naturopathic options may be safer and more effective.
Regular exercise, yoga, stretching, and leg massage may reduce symptoms.
Magnesium for Restless Legs Syndrome has been proven effective, as we’ll explain below.
You should also get your iron levels tested since iron deficiency is a major cause of RLS. If your levels are low, your doctor will prescribe iron supplements, available over-the-counter. For those who have trouble absorbing iron in the gut, intravenous (IV) iron is also an option. You can also increase your dietary intake of iron-rich foods.
You may require other nutritional supplements, depending on your health, lifestyle, and diet. Your healthcare practitioner can help you determine whether you have nutritional deficiencies.
“A 2014 study found that vitamin D supplements reduced RLS symptoms in people with RLS and vitamin D deficiency“. Do note that magnesium is required to assimilate vitamin D and too much vitamin D without enough magnesium can be harmful.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is key to minimizing RLS symptoms. For that reason, doctors will often suggest that patients make an effort to foster healthy sleeping habits. This includes going to sleep and waking up at about the same time, keeping your room dark, avoiding stimulants, and reducing distractions (TV or phone use) for a few hours before you go to sleep.
It is currently unclear whether supplementing with a natural sleep aid like melatonin will improve RLS symptoms.
Using Magnesium for Restless Leg Syndrome
Magnesium is regarded as an effective natural treatment for RLS that is safe for almost everyone.
Scientific studies on the efficiency of sleep (decreased episodes of awakening and increased sleep time) showed significant improvement when magnesium supplementation was introduced, especially for people reporting episodes of RLS.
In some cases, magnesium deficiency is thought to cause RLS, and a deficiency of this key mineral can certainly aggravate RLS symptoms.
The role of magnesium could be related to the relationship between magnesium and calcium. These two minerals must be in balance, yet most people get too much calcium and not enough magnesium.
Without the balance of magnesium, calcium can make nerves overactive and increase muscle contraction, twitches, and spasms. Magnesium counters the effects of calcium by relaxing muscles and nerves. It also triggers the release of melatonin at night, facilitating sleep.
Magnesium is an easy way to reduce, if not eliminate, symptoms of RLS. By taking a magnesium supplement, applying topical cream, or simply chewing a gummy, you can take steps to alleviate your RLS symptoms.
In excellent news, the relaxing properties of magnesium aren’t limited to the legs. This soothing mineral can help relax muscles and nerves throughout the body, while simultaneously helping the brain to sleep.
If you have kidney disease, discuss the safety of supplementing magnesium with your healthcare provider.
Natural Calm Magnesium Citrate for RLS
Some of our most enthusiastic testimonials come from Natural Calm fans who use our magnesium citrate drink to treat RLS.
Natural Calm magnesium citrate has also been proven more bioavailable than leading magnesium tablets, which is unsurprising because we know that magnesium taken as a liquid is more readily absorbed than tablets.
Taken as directed, Natural Calm magnesium citrate is a gentle laxative — a benefit most users appreciate. To reduce the laxative effect while still enjoying relief from RLS, take smaller doses of Natural Calm throughout the day, leading up to bed.
Magnesium is not a sedative and will not cause fatigue, though it does support natural sleep hormones at night.
Take it from Natural Calm customers like these:
“ From completely curing my RLS that I suffered with for over 6 years, to helping me ‘calm’ before bed when I work nights, there are so many benefits to Natural Calm! You won’t know them until you try it. Dedicated user for over 3 years now. TY!”
– Brenda H.
“ I just started using this product 2 nights ago after struggling with Restless Legs – and little sleep as a result – for the past month and a half. It kicked in the first night and I couldn’t be happier! 1tspn did the trick ”
“ Helps with my restless leg syndrome and sleep. Thanks! ”
“I’m 61 years old and my wife Joyce is 59. We have been on a strict vitamin regime for over 40 years and are in good health. However, my wife Joyce has never been able to rid herself of the “restless leg” syndrome that she has suffered most of her life; that is until now. Natural Calm has apparently allowed Joyce to sleep without the leg problem and so far, she has been free of it for almost a month now. I prepare a Natural Calm tea for her as well as myself one half hour before going to bed and it seems to work well. I also get a better sleep now. I will be getting the rest of my family to try it.”
– Roger and Joyce Lambert
“Calm is a GREAT product! Helps with a number of ailments – restless leg, constipation – I’d give it *****”
– Jane C.
“Being a shift worker and changing shifts every two weeks, my complaints have always been unbalanced sleep, headaches similar to migraines, but frequent cluster headaches that would not go away. On top of it, I went to my family doctor for some advice on the ‘charlie horses,’ in my left leg that woke me up in the middle of the night, almost every day….
Leg cramps, charlie horses, very little sleep = cluster headaches and feeling horrible!
When I started to take the Natural Calm as directed, I made only one change. I stopped taking my calcium supplements. To my amazement, within one week….I started to notice a dramatic change and almost…IMMEDIATELY! The ‘charlie horses,’ disappeared! NO LEG CRAMPING!
I slept throughout the night without the painstaking leg cramps waking me up and felt more refreshed upon awakening rather than feeling fatigued! The headaches became minimal and almost down to one a week, instead of several a day!
The second week and third week only got better and I have been on it for a month now. The only change I made was to not take calcium supplements any longer but started taking Natural Calm. What a HUGE difference this has made!”
– Irene Mielnik
Magnesium Chloride for RLS
You can also try massaging Bolton’s Naturals Magnesium Chloride into your legs before bed.
Choose from our magnesium chloride spray, gel, balm, or concentrated liquid, each available with lavender essential oil for the ultimate in natural relaxation.
Magnesium applied topically absorbs quickly, and it completely bypasses the gut. For those with sensitive digestive systems and RLS, Bolton’s Naturals transdermal magnesium chloride is the perfect solution.