How to Use Weighted Blankets to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome

Written by in Weighted Blankets

Quick Overview

As we’ve detailed before, there is a significant amount of research supporting the use of weighted blankets for a range of conditions, including ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety, depression, and more. But one condition that many people may overlook is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). RLS affects the central nervous system and, for this reason, it may respond well to input from weighted blankets that calms and soothes the brain. In order to understand how weighted blankets can assist people with RLS, you must first know the mechanisms of Restless Leg Syndrome.

Man relaxed in chair with weighed blanket on him

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a common nervous system condition that gives people an uncontrollable need to move their legs. This is the main symptom of RLS, which usually occurs in the evening or nighttime hours. Other symptoms of restless leg syndrome include:

A photo of some common Restless Legs Syndrome symptoms which are leg pain (pins & needles), twitching/spasms, poor sleep and generalized restlessness
  • Leg pain
  • Generalized restlessness
  • Sleep difficulties, including fatigue, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness
  • Changes in the sensation of the legs, such as pins and needles (also known as numbness and tingling), throbbing, aching, creeping, and pulling
  • Painful or uncomfortable muscle spasms, or twitches in the legs

Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome

There is still a lot that we don’t know about RLS, but researchers suspect that restless leg syndrome may stem from some of the following causes:

  • Low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that controls bodily movements
  • Family history of RLS
  • Hormonal changes related to pregnancy (specifically, those that occur in the third trimester)
  • Other nervous system disorders, such as spinal cord injuries or lesions and peripheral neuropathy
  • Iron deficiency
  • Withdrawal from prescriptions that serve as sedatives and vasodilators
  • Kidney failure

Does Stress Cause Restless Leg Syndrome?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact source of RLS, since factors vary from person to person, but stress does appear to have a connection to this condition. There is no research to prove that high stress levels bring about RLS, but psychological concerns such as stress and chronic fatigue can make symptoms worse.

Some Natural Ways to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome

Some natural remedies to restless legs syndrome include eating foods rich in Vitamin A, protein and zinc, drinking chamomile tea, taking magnesium supplements & soaking the feet in a bath with epsom salts

As with many conditions, there are several different approaches that can help symptoms. Most doctors recommend medications such as sedatives, antidepressants, and calcium channel regulators to treat RLS symptoms. If RLS developed as a result of iron deficiency, iron replacement therapy will be a crucial part of the treatment process. There are also some natural self-care techniques that can assist in remediating symptoms and improving someone’s quality of life. Some natural approaches are:

  • Eating foods rich in Vitamin A, protein, and zinc
    • Carrots, peas, eggs, wheat, chickpeas, and milk are just some examples
    • If your RLS is due to iron deficiency, you may want to also incorporate foods such as spinach, lean meats, beans, and seeds
  • Drinking chamomile tea before bed
  • Taking magnesium supplements (this is more effective when taken separately and not in combination with other minerals or vitamins)
  • Soak the feet and legs in a bath with epsom salts

Some Other Natural Remedies to Try

some natural treatments to restless legs syndrome include placing a warm compress on the legs, avoiding trigger foods or substances, going for a short walk and gently rubbing/massaging the legs
  • Placing warm or cold compresses on the legs when symptoms increase
  • Avoid trigger foods/substances before bed
    • Alcohol
    • Caffeine
    • Tobacco
    • Nicotine
    • Dairy products
    • Foods high in sugar
  • Engaging yourself in activities when you experience restlessness
    • Try taking a bath or shower
    • Go for a short walk
    • Do some light exercise or stretching (avoid anything vigorous right before bed)
    • Gently rub or massage the legs

How Weighted Blankets Can Help Restless Leg Syndrome

As we’ve mentioned, weighted blankets provide the body with input that both calms and soothes the nervous system. As a result, this helps alleviate mental health concerns and symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Since there is a proven link between stress levels and the worsening of RLS symptoms, it makes sense that weighted blankets can help people with restless leg syndrome.

Due to symptoms of restlessness, people with this condition often experience difficulty sleeping. There is also a large body of evidence that shows weighted blankets can improve peoples’ sleep by allowing them to get to sleep more quickly, stay asleep longer, and achieve better quality sleep. Studies show that weighted blankets boost serotonin levels, which both improves and regulates sleep cycles, leading to more consistent and restful sleep. Weighted blankets are so effective in enhancing a person’s sleep, that some research suggests it may even help people eliminate sleep medications altogether.

Weighted Blankets Can Help Manage Anxiety

a woman sleeping peacefully under a Yaasa weighted blanket

Weighted blankets also do wonders for the body by lowering cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that stops processes like digestion, sleep, and the regulation of emotions. High blood levels of cortisol lead the body to be in a constant state of awareness and anxiety in addition to causing weight gain and impaired organ function.

Some research details that 15-pound weighted blankets are the most effective at lowering heart rate, stabilizing oxygen levels, and managing anxiety levels for psychiatric patients. Other types of weighted blankets offer similar effects, but are not quite as impactful on vital signs.

How to Best Use a Weighted Blanket When You Have Restless Leg Syndrome

Weighted blankets should be used in the evening and night to help with RLS, since this is when symptoms are most uncomfortable and distressing. This also allows the effects of weighted blankets to extend to improving sleep. Weighted blankets range from 5 pounds to 20 pounds, so there is certainly a big selection for people to choose from. However, you may need to do a bit of preparation before shopping for your weighted blanket. In order to maximize the effect of the weighted blanket while also keeping safety in mind, it’s important to get a blanket that weighs no more than 20% of your body weight. This offers each person optimal comfort while also ensuring that no one will be trapped under the blanket or unable to adjust it if needed.

Best Weighted Blankets for Restless Leg Syndrome

When it comes down to it, the best weighted blanket is the one you feel most secure with. Opt for comfortable and breathable fabrics like cotton that can easily be cleaned. Additionally, you will want a style that has its weight distributed evenly across the blanket so the entirety of both legs can reap the benefits equally. Many people with RLS struggle with changes in sensation, so they may also prefer a reversible blanket that has a smooth and cooling side plus a warmer, plush side to help them regulate temperature.

Are weighted blankets good for restless sleepers?

Weighted blankets are an evidence-based, natural approach for people with restless leg syndrome, especially those who are restless sleepers. If you get a blanket that does not exceed 20% of your body weight, you should have no problem moving the blanket off you or adjusting it in the middle of the night. Moreover, weighted blankets can make it so that you get a more restful (and less restless) night of sleep.

Is it okay to sleep with a weighted blanket every night?

Weighted blankets are perfectly safe and do not come along with any side effects. For this reason, they are safe to use as frequently (or as infrequently) as you’d like. Many people prefer to use their weighted blanket multiple times per day, depending on what symptoms they experience and their availability to place the blanket on themselves. Most weighted blankets are safe for everyday use since they are fleece, microfiber, or cotton, which are all machine-washable. They are also made with quality micro glass beads, plastic pellets, plastic poly pellets, or similar filling. Some people prefer to make their own, which you can do by sewing a duvet-like pattern and filling it with dried beans, grains, rice, or small pebbles.

Who should not use a weighted blanket?

Many people benefit from weighted blankets, but people with breathing problems such as asthma, sleep apnea, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder should take care when using them to ensure the blanket is not placed over their chest. Weighted blankets are also not recommended for infants or toddlers under the age of 3 or elderly adults who are underweight or considered to be frail. People with open wounds or skin conditions should be sure not to use weighted blankets for extended periods (hours at a time) because this may prevent the skin from breathing properly. Additionally, people with diabetes and other circulatory problems should use weighted blankets with caution because they can slow circulation if used for too long. A better option for these individuals is lighter blankets that serve as layers, so they can be taken off as needed. If you have any specific questions about weighted blanket safety or usage, you can ask healthcare professionals such as occupational therapists.

Do weighted blankets always work for RLS?

As with many natural approaches, more research is needed to better understand the effectiveness of weighted blankets for RLS and other conditions. For this reason, there is no guarantee that they will help relieve symptoms of RLS. However, existing literature shows that there is promise for the use of weighted blankets to assist with managing RLS.