Gary Moller: [DipPhEd PGDipRehab PGDipSportMed(Otago)FCE Certified, Kordel's and Nutra-Life Certified Natural Health Consultant]. ICL Laboratories registered Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and Medical Nutrition Consultant.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

I get restless legs and can’t sleep - Please help me!

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a horrible condition that is poorly understood and for which there are few medical treatments other than sedation and muscle relaxants. An athlete in training does not want these. The condition may also be associated with or confused with night cramps.

RLS is more common in older people and may be associated with poor circulation and poor nutrition and as a side effect of medications for other conditions like high blood pressure. Excessive caffeine, red wine and chocolate before bedtime might be factors. Symptoms include feeling like something is crawling about inside the legs, an uncontrollable urge to tense and straighten the legs and cramping feelings in the legs and feet. This can be intolerable and renders sleep next to impossible.

Little has been written about RLS in athletes despite it being quite common. In the case of athletes, RLS is probably the result of over training, over-indulgence in caffeine and nutritional deficiencies, especially magnesium and B vitamins depletion. Here are some suggestions that might help bring some relief:

  • Do the bulk of your training early in the day, rather than late afternoon or evening so that recovery is well on the way before sleep.

  • If you notice the symptoms abate during your recovery weeks you might be over-training. You may benefit from reducing the overall volume of training and doing a more graduated build up.

  • Get off caffeine and other stimulants and avoid red wine and chocolate in the evening and any other foods or substances that you think might upset sleep. If you have been a habitual caffeine taker, it may take up to three weeks to get through the withdrawal symptoms, so you must be strong.

  • Have your last big meal well before sleep so that you are not digesting a full stomach while trying to sleep.

  • Do not eat heavily spiced meals, such as hot curry and chilli peppers in the evening.
    Try a course of magnesium, calcium and B group vitamins supplementation to reduce cramping. Take one of each of these supplements about an hour or less before bed. Take with a warm cup of milk.
    Have a Super Smoothie with whey protein. Add some creatine and take before and after exhausting exercise.

  • A glutamine supplement in the evening might assist.

  • Have a relaxing bath with Epsom salts and a gentle massage of the legs before going to bed.

  • Sleep in a cool, dark room without excessive bedding so that you do not overheat the legs. The legs should always be several degrees cooler than your core temperature.
If symptoms persist, or if you want assistance with refining this advice to suit you, give me a call.
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