Can a Bar of Soap in Bed Cure Restless Legs Syndrome?

Can you really cure leg cramps or a sleep disorder such as restless legs syndrome (RLS) by placing a bar of soap in your bed? What was once an old wives' tale is being discussed on television programs like the "Dr. Oz Show" and in online forums.

This article explores the concept behind this home remedy and whether it is something that can actually help you sleep better.

Verywell / Laura Porter

RLS vs. Leg Cramps

There are some similarities and differences between these two sleep-disrupting conditions.

  • RLS is an uncomfortable urge to move your legs that occurs most often when you're lying down at night. If you move, it often goes away. This is especially true if you get up and walk around.
  • Leg cramps are sudden, painful spasms in your feet or legs. The cramps may ease up in a few seconds, but the pain can last much longer. They can usually be relieved by stretching the muscles.

Causes

Leg cramps and RLS have different causes and risk factors.

What Causes RLS?

Often, RLS can develop without any risk factors. And sometimes RLS occurs with other neurological disorders. It has been linked to a condition called peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to the nerves throughout your body. It's also associated with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

RLS can also be a problem during pregnancy. There's some evidence that, in pregnancy, RLS may be linked to lower amounts of the minerals iron, magnesium, and zinc.

RLS is associated with a lack of iron in the body. It may also be due to problems with a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine helps to control the way your body moves. Iron is essential for dopamine synthesis, which may explain why low iron states, like pregnancy, increase the risk of RLS.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

Leg cramps have different causes and they can increase as you get older. Leg cramps can happen if you're low on electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Electrolytes are minerals that are needed for various body functions, particularly nerve and muscle functions.

In general, severe electrolyte changes are rare and can cause life-threatening complications, like heart rhythm abnormalities. But mild electrolyte imbalances are more common and can affect anyone. For example, if you're dehydrated or you've over-exerted yourself physically, that could bring on a bout of leg cramps.

You may also experience frequent leg cramps if you have a condition that affects your fluid and electrolyte balance, such as diabetes, liver disease, or kidney failure that requires dialysis.

Soap as a Possible Treatment

Television programs like "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors" have discussed the use of soap to relieve these conditions. It is also a popular topic in discussion forums and comment threads.

Advocates say that something in the soap—magnesium, lavender, or even electrically charged ions—seeps into the skin and alters your body chemistry. Magnesium and lavender are popular additions to sleep aids, but there is no evidence that a bar of soap in the bed will help relax your legs.

How Soap Is Used

Some say you should place the bar of soap at the foot of the bed. Others say it must be close to the location of the cramps. Under the sheet and inside a sock are two other suggestions. It isn't clear how soap in such different locations could have the same effect on the legs.

This treatment may be supported by traditional beliefs or anecdotal evidence, but there is little scientific research to back up the claim. In a small study involving 105 people with severe RLS, massage with lavender essential oil relieved RLS symptoms better than foot massage on its own. It's important to note that the lavender oil was massaged into the skin, not placed nearby.

There is no logical reason to place a bar of soap in the bed to treat either restless legs or leg cramps.

Lack of Evidence

There haven't been any scientific studies done to test the effects of a bar of soap on symptoms of RLS or leg cramps. The gold standard for scientific research is a randomized controlled trial. For example, researchers would test two similar groups with restless legs or leg cramps. Half the subjects would use a bar of soap and the other half would use a placebo. A placebo is basically a fake treatment. In this case, half the group might use a soap-shaped piece of plastic.

Then, the outcomes would be compared. Researchers would find out about each group's symptoms. Ideally, the subjects and the researchers would be blinded, not knowing who used soap or the placebo.

Summary

It's been said that tucking a bar of soap under your sheets could help relieve the pain of leg cramps or the discomfort of restless legs syndrome.

There is no scientific evidence to support this home remedy. If you're dealing with either of these health conditions, it's a good idea to see a healthcare professional to identify the cause so you can find an effective treatment.

A Word From Verywell

There is probably no harm in placing soap in your bed. It's not likely to bring you any relief, though. If your symptoms don't go away, speak with your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist about science-backed treatment options to help you rest.

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5 Sources
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