When Your Partner Has Restless Legs Syndrome

If your partner has restless legs syndrome, you both may have sleepless nights. Try these sleep tips so rest doesn’t become an impossible dream.

If you share a bed with one of the millions of people who have restless legs syndrome (RLS), getting a good night’s sleep may be challenging for both of you. In an attempt to relieve tingling or other discomfort, your partner may be in constant motion, keeping you awake for much of the night, too. What’s worse, 80 percent of those with RLS kick their legs (and, consequently, their partners) while asleep, causing a lot of distress and strain on relationships, says William C. Kohler, MD, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine .

In severe cases, restless legs can trigger insomnia for the person who doesn’t have RLS, says Rachel Salas, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. But before you kick your loved one out of bed, both doctors say to encourage your partner to get properly evaluated and start an appropriate restless legs treatment plan. “Ideally, treatment will stop the problem,” Dr. Kohler says .

Sleep Tips to Calm Restless Legs

Treatment for severe restless legs will likely include medication, but you (the person without RLS) can also offer your significant other some relief with these at-home tips:

  • Massage his or her legs – This may be most effective right at bedtime. Kohler suggests trying a vibrating massage device for even more relief. Be aware of your own assistance threshold, though. Dr. Salas acknowledges that while some people find massaging their partner’s legs once in a while acceptable, it can become tedious night after night.

  • Draw a hot bath – For some people, restless legs treatment may include taking a soothing warm bath or using a heating pad for temporary relief, says Salas.

  • Chill out – Other people find that cold temperatures help more than hot, so keep ice packs in your freezer or a cooling blanket in your closet.

  • Take a walk together – Exercise can help calm restlessness at night. Just make sure it’s not too vigorous or too close to bedtime, because that kind of exertion can rattle your internal clock.

  • Apply pressure – Salas says some people with restless legs syndrome find that applying pressure on their legs while in bed helps. Some go as far as having their partner sit on their legs, she adds. Draping a heavy blanket over the legs and using bandages to wrap legs are ideas to try as well. Leg wrapping can be especially helpful so you can get some sleep, but these suggestions won’t work for everyone — some people with RLS can’t tolerate the pressure .

  • Engage the mind – Encourage your loved one to keep his or her mind busy before bedtime to stave off restless legs symptoms. Engage in a lively conversation or do a crossword puzzle together. Stay away from activities that may be too stimulating, though; like vigorous exercise, they could interfere with sleep.

  • Be supportive – One of the best things you can do is be supportive of your significant other, Kohler says. If caffeine, alcohol, or smoking triggers RLS symptoms, encourage your partner to abstain, and do so yourself in solidarity. Also remind your loved one to take any medications at the right time to get the most out of a restless legs treatment plan.

Sleep Tips to Get Yourself Some Rest

If you’ve done all these things and your partner’s restless legs are still keeping you up at night, try these tips to help yourself to a good night’s sleep:

  • Re-evaluate your mattress – Salas says foam or latex mattresses or other types that don’t transfer motion could be helpful if your partner disturbs you by getting out of bed a lot to move his or her legs.

  • Use separate blankets – Some people with restless legs cannot tolerate the weight of a blanket. Consider using separate blankets so that you’re not left shivering in a cold bed if your loved one pulls the comforter off the bed in the middle of the night.

  • Have sex – Getting intimate can help your loved one’s condition (and be enjoyable for both of you). RLS experts don’t quite know why this is beneficial, but it could be the relaxing afterglow that helps. Or, Salas says, it could possibly be the movement during sex or the distraction from discomfort that sex provides.

Regina Boyle Wheeler