Restless Legs Syndrome and Sugar: What's the Link?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition in which a person feels the urge to move their legs due to uncomfortable sensations during times of rest. RLS is thought to be the fourth leading cause of insomnia.

RLS can occur because of nutrient deficiencies and could be a side effect of certain medications and lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol consumption. People with RLS are often advised to avoid certain foods like sugar as well.

This article will investigate the relationship between RLS and sugar intake.

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Restless Legs Syndrome and Sugar

No clinical evidence points to sugar as a specific contributor of RLS, yet anecdotal evidence suggests that eating sugary foods or beverages before bed may contribute to symptoms.

Studies have shown that people who are overweight increase the risk of RLS. And high intake of added sugar is associated with weight gain and obesity. However, more research is needed in this area.

Foods that are high in sugar may also affect magnesium absorption. Magnesium is a mineral that regulates many body functions, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Research on magnesium and RLS is inconsistent and scarce, but low levels of magnesium can affect other health conditions, which, in turn, can lead to RLS.

Sugary beverages such as soda contain caffeine. Drinking caffeinated and sugary beverages before bed may worsen RLS symptoms.

Diabetes and RLS

People with diabetes are at increased risk of neuropathy (nerve damage) in the lower extremities (called peripheral neuropathy) and RLS. Having high blood sugar levels for an extended period increases the risk of developing neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a secondary cause of RLS.

While eating sugar does not cause diabetes, a diet high in sugar is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and can contribute to elevated blood sugars. Elevated blood sugars also result in polyuria (excessive urination), a contributor to dehydration, which can cause cramping in the legs.

Sugary Foods to Avoid With RLS

Excessive amounts of sugar are not good for anyone, including people with RLS. Limiting added sugar to 10% of calories per day is recommended.

Foods that contain added sugar include:

  • Sweetened beverages (coffee, soda, iced teas, juice)
  • Candy
  • Cookies, cakes, and pastries
  • Chocolate
  • Baked goods
  • Ice cream
  • Sweetened cereals
  • Table sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup

It's important to read labels because some foods contain hidden added sugars.

Eating some foods that contain sugar is OK. However, if you notice that your RLS symptoms appear or worsen when you eat sugary foods, you may want to reduce your intake. Choosing nutritious foods that contain essential nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, will help prevent RLS.

Other Foods to Avoid With RLS

There is no specific diet for RLS; however, a nutritious diet is associated with better overall health. Sometimes, people with RLS have iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, or folate deficiencies. In this case, eating a diet rich in those nutrients and adding supplements may be necessary. For some people, alcohol intake can make symptoms worse and should be avoided.

More Treatment Options for RLS

RLS is often treated with medication. However, some lifestyle modifications and alternative therapies can be helpful. Contact your healthcare provider for guidance.

Some options include:

  • Correcting nutrient deficiencies
  • Exercising throughout the day (avoiding strenuous exercise before bedtime)
  • Getting a massage
  • Applying heat or cold
  • Trying acupuncture


Eating sugar may not cause RLS, but more research is needed. If you have another health condition, genetic predisposition to RLS, or take certain medications, your risk of RLS is higher. Speak to your healthcare provider about nutrient deficiencies and your diet. They may provide you with some recommendations for symptom management, including daily exercise, heat, massage, and acupuncture.

A Word From Verywell

If you have RLS, it doesn't mean you can never eat sugar. However, eating a nutritious diet and practicing healthy habits are important in controlling or preventing symptoms. If you have RLS, you should have your vitamin and mineral levels checked. Curing nutrient deficiencies can help you feel better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What food causes restless legs syndrome?

    No specific food causes restless legs syndrome, but some people can be triggered by caffeine. A nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat is important for overall health and disease prevention.

  • Do bananas help restless legs syndrome?

    Bananas contain potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that play a role in muscle contraction, which may help restless legs syndrome, but consuming one food cannot cure an ailment. There is no harm in experimenting to see if it helps alleviate symptoms.

  • Can dehydration cause restless legs?

    Some people say that dehydration increases the urge to move the legs. It is unclear if dehydration alone is the culprit. Dehydration can mean that your electrolyte balance is also off, which affects muscle contraction and leads to cramping.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.