Could dairy be the culprit for your restless leg syndrome?

Have you ever found yourself trying to fall asleep only to be met with the unexpected urge to kick and move your feet around? If so, chances are you have experienced restless leg syndrome. According to the Sleep Foundation, restless leg syndrome will affect between 5 and 10 percent of adults and between 2 and 4 percent of children in the United States.

But what exactly is restless leg syndrome, and what can you do about it? We're going to take a look at some of RLS's common culprits and how it might impact your sleep. We'll also take a look at the potential relationship between dairy and restless leg syndrome and what this means for you.

What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome is a unique condition in which you have the uncontrollable urge to move your legs as you sleep. Restless leg syndrome can set in just as you go to bed at night, or in extreme cases, you may even find yourself waking up with the urge to kick and move your legs around. It can even lead to insomnia.

Common symptoms of restless leg syndrome that you may feel include: 

  • A tingling sensation around your legs, especially if you have been stationary for an extended period of time.
  • An increase in sensations in your leg during the evening hours.
  • Leg twitching during the night time. This includes twitching movement and kicking of your legs even while you are sleeping.
  • ​​​​​​​A brief moment of relief when you kick or move your legs around. Stretching, jiggling your legs, and even going for a short walk around your bedroom will bring you moments of relief.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

There are a variety of reasons why some people might suffer from restless leg syndrome. But one of the main components is due to the chemical interactions going on in your brain. Typically, as you ease into your sleep, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for relaxing your muscles and letting them shut down for the night. For some people, not having enough dopamine can make it difficult for the muscles to relax and be stationary as you sleep. 

In order for your body to release the necessary dopamine to relax your muscles, your body needs two amino acids, phenylalanine and tyrosine, which are provided by your protein and iron intake throughout the day. For many people, restless leg syndrome can be brought on because of an inadequate diet. Here's what you can do to ensure that your diet is not the cause of a case of restless legs.

balanced meals

Protein-Rich Foods

You can get protein from both animal and plant sources, such as:

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • ​​​​​​​Legumes and beans
Iron-Rich Foods

When it comes to your iron intake, there are a variety of meats, vegetables, and fruits you can snack on, including: 

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Shrimp
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Whole wheat breads
  • Prune juice
  • Watermelon
  • ​​​​​​​Dates 

It's important that you get an adequate amount of Vitamin C in your diet as well because Vitamin C helps improve the absorption of iron as it goes into your body. 

dairy and restless leg syndrome

Dairy and Restless Leg Syndrome 

Interestingly enough, there are some indications that point to dairy being a common trigger for restless leg syndrome. For many, certain food sensitivities like being lactose intolerant can bring on restless leg syndrome before bed. 

If you are lactose intolerant, then avoiding the obvious triggers like milk and cheese might not be the only foods you should avoid. Anything containing lactose might encourage the onset of restless leg syndrome, so it might be a matter of trial and error in figuring out what triggers your RLS.

How to Ease Restless Leg Syndrome

The good news is that dealing with restless leg syndrome can be done right at home for many. Here are some common home remedies you should try.

1. Re-evaluate Your Diet

As mentioned above, start by re-evaluating your diet. If you have specific food sensitivities, especially dairy sensitivities, try cutting these out of your diet, or at the very least, limiting your intake before bed. It is also wise to steer clear of caffeinated beverages like fizzy sodas, coffee, and tea in the last couple hours before bedtime.

2. Use a Heating Pad

A heating pad can work wonders for soothing and relaxing your restless muscles. Wrap it around your legs at bedtime and let the warmth work its magic. Just don't forget to turn the heating pad off before you fall asleep.

3. Take a Warm Bath

Another method to help soothe and relax your muscles is getting into a warm bath right before bed. You can use essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus to help relax your muscles as well.

4. Increase Your Physical Activity

One of the best ways to help alleviate restless leg syndrome is by being active throughout the day. By doing so, you give your muscles a chance to exert the energy that they would otherwise exert at night. 

Have you ever dealt with restless leg syndrome? What methods have you used to find comfort at night? If you also have a dairy sensitivity, be sure to let us know if and how you have changed your diet to reduce the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.