There are numerous reasons why people struggle to get good sleep at night, ranging from anxiety to chronic pain. One potential cause is having hot feet and legs, which is a bit different than restless leg syndrome (having uncomfortable feelings in your legs that give you a strong urge to keep moving them).
What does it mean when your feet get hot and feel like they’re burning? Hot feet — also called burning feet syndrome or Grierson-Gopalan syndrome— can be accompanied by other symptoms too, including tingling, pain or numbness that affects the shins, ankles and soles of the feet.
Usually it’s due to some type of nerve damage, although causes like infections, chronic kidney disease or use of some medications can also be to blame.
To prevent discomfort from burning feet from ruining your sleep, useful tips and treatment options include:
- improving your diet
- trying acupuncture, essential oils and massage therapy
Should you be worried about hot feet? Burning sensations in your lower body can develop for a number of different reasons, some of which are more serious than others.
For example, they can be triggered by damaged nerves, abnormal blood sugar levels, infections and hormonal imbalances.
Can high blood pressure cause burning feet? What are about diabetes?
Here are some potential causes of hot feet and legs, as well as risk factors:
- Nerve damage or neuropathy, such as due to spine or back injuries or trauma, breakdown of spinal tissue, or surgery
- Diabetic neuropathy, caused by the effects of high blood glucose (Around 70 percent of people with neuropathy are diabetics. Among all diabetics, about 25 percent to 30 percent have peripheral neuropathy, and in older diabetics this number increases to around 65 percent.)
- Alcohol abuse, which can increase body temperature
- Smoking, which can interfere with blood flow
- Peripheral artery or vascular diseases, which affect circulation
- Chemotherapy side effects
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of hereditary neuropathy. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease usually also causes abnormal weakness in the legs and unusual lifting of the arches of the feet.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome, also called tibial nerve damage, which affects nerves around bones and ligaments in your ankle. Tarsal tunnel syndrome usually also causes burning, tingling or pain in the lower body.
- Infections and viruses, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and Epstein-Barr virus
- Athlete’s foot, a type of fungal infection that can trigger itching, redness and stinging too
- Chronic kidney diseases, which can cause heat in certain parts of the body and circulation problems
- Hormonal changes, such as those due to pregnancy or menopause. If this is to blame, women are more likely to be affected, especially those between 20 and 40 years old.
- Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)
- Older age and being a woman (Restless leg syndrome-like symptoms also tend to occur more often in the elderly and more often in women.)
- Anemia/iron deficiency or low levels of other essential nutrients, such as magnesium, folate and B vitamins (especially B12)
- Varicose veins
- The rare condition called erythromelalgia, which causes redness, burning and pain in the feet, legs and hands. Erythromelalgia episodes are typically triggered by an increase in body temperature, such as from a very warm environment or from working out.
How to Cool Hot Feet
The very first thing to do when treating hot feet is to identity what’s causing your symptoms. Your doctor can help with this if you’re unsure of why you’re feeling hotter than usual all of a sudden.
Aside from addressing any underlying conditions you may have, here are some other tips for managing hot feet at night:
1. Improve Your Circulation
Poor blood flow and nerve damage (including diabetic neuropathy) are common reasons why people can experience hot feet.
Burning sensations in your lower body may be tied to eating a poor diet, being sedentary or having increased stress, which can worsen inflammation. These lifestyle habits can all make conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, worse.
There are a number of ways to restore healthy blood flow to your legs and feet. These include:
- Exercise. Regular physical activity as well as walking around daily help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar/insulin levels and support your body’s ability to detoxify itself. However, very strenuous exercise and not allowing yourself enough rest between workouts might worsen symptoms, so be careful to take breaks and avoid overtraining.
- A healthy diet. Eating foods that support cardiovascular health and metabolic health can limit your risk for developing problems like type 2 diabetes or arterial diseases. Focus on nutrient-rich foods, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, grass-fed meat and poultry, eggs, wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices. Some of the best foods for battling hot feet and restless leg syndrome include:
- Foods high in magnesium and electrolytes, like leafy green veggies, avocado, beans, bananas, sweet potatoes, raw dairy products (such as cultured yogurt), nuts and seeds.
- Ancient grains (in moderation), including rolled oats, quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice and amaranth.
- Protein sources are usually good sources of iron and B vitamins. Strong choices include grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish, beans and lentils.
- Healthy fats help balance blood sugar and can lower inflammation, such as coconut or olive oil, avocado, seeds, nuts, and wild seafood containing omega-3 fats.
- On the other hand, avoid added sugar or artificial sweeteners, too many caffeinated drinks and alcohol, trans fats or refined oils, processed carbohydrates, and grains.
- Acupuncture and acupressure, which some people find to be helpful for neuropathy treatment. These treatments are backed up by medically reviewed studies and may also help address hormonal problems and stress.
- Massage therapy, which increases blood flow.
- Aside from the habits above, be sure to avoid smoking and consuming too much alcohol, both of which can contribute to neuropathy, heart issues and diabetes complications.
Other ways to take care of your feet and reduce discomfort and pain include wearing supportive shoes during the daytime and considering wearing inserts to reduce nerve pain in your feet.
2. Dress Comfortably at Night
While these strategies might not be enough to get rid of your hot feet symptoms all together, they can help reduce discomfort and aid in getting better sleep:
- Avoid wearing socks or long, tight pants to bed. Let your lower body “breathe.” Some people also find relief from aiming a fan at the end of their beds near their feet or wearing “cooling socks.”
- Keep your room cool and comfortable, such as by lowering the temperature at night or opening a window for ventilation.
- Don’t use too many blankets or a heating pad or hot water bottle before bed, which can worsen symptoms. Try to expose your limbs to air by having them out of your covers.
- Try massaging yourself before going to sleep, which can boost circulation. You can also rub your feet with peppermint essential oil to help give them a cooling effect and to fight inflammation. Another option is soaking your feet in Epsom salts before bed for about 20 minutes. A half-cup of Epsom salt can also be added to a large pan of warm water to create soothing bath.
- Experiment with lifting your feet up while you sleep using a pillow or wedge. This might reduce sensations like tingling and throbbing.
3. Supplement to Manage Inflammation and Support Healthy Nerves
In some cases, a lack of certain nutrients may make heat in your lower body worse. Some supplements that might be helpful, especially if you have nerve damage or a history of heart disease or diabetes, include:
- Turmeric, an herb that has a long history of use due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Evening primrose oil, which is sometimes used in the treatment of nerve damage symptoms like numbing and tingling.
- B vitamins and iron, which support healthy blood flow.
- L-carnitine, an amino acid that can help manage diabetes-related symptoms, including neurotherapy.
- Antioxidants, including alpha-lipoic acid, which can help fight inflammation.
- Omega-3 fish oil. Take 1,000 milligrams daily to help lower inflammation.
- Vitamin B12. Diabetics and people with Grierson-Gopalan syndrome commonly lack this nutrient, which can worsen nerve damage.
- Capsaicin cream (applied topically) can also help with peripheral neuropathy, although it has a warming effect and may initially worsen heat when applied.
- Many essential oils also have natural anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic qualities and may be able to help manage fungal infections. Try peppermint (for its cooling effect), thyme, tea tree, frankincense, cypress, rosemary, lavender, or cedarwood oils.
4. Consider Nerve Stimulation Therapies
If you’ve identified that nerve damage is contributing to your symptoms, there are a few different treatments that might be helpful. Talk to your doctor or a specialist about the following options:
- Magnetic field therapy, which may help lower inflammation and edema and facilitate healing of tissues.
- Laser or light therapy, a treatment that uses specific wavelengths of light to stimulate healing on a cellular level by increasing circulation, reducing pain and decreasing swelling.
- Physical therapy can also be helpful because it increases muscle strength, mobility and daily functioning. You can talk to your physical therapist about any pain you’re experiencing and try special orthopedic inserts or shoes during the daytime.
Stretching your feet and legs and getting exercise are highly recommended as part of a hot feet treatment plan. Try to regularly do:
- Calf stretches, such as lunging
- Forward bending to stretch your hamstrings/the back of your legs
- Quad stretches performed by standing on one leg, folding the other leg and pulling it behind you
- Stretching the heel against a flat wall by bending the toes and foot back toward you
- Getting up and moving legs after you’ve been sitting for a long time
When to See a Doctor
Make an appointment to visit your doctor if you experience burning sensations for more than a few weeks, especially if you have a chronic condition that affects your nerves and circulation. Also consult your doctor if you take medications that may contribute to your symptoms.
Your doctor may be able to help get your symptoms under control by adjusting your medications. He or she might also run several tests to determine if you have an underlying condition that hasn’t been diagnosed yet, such as neuropathy or diabetes.
Another option to discuss with your health care provider is whether some medications or over-the-counter drugs may help, such as painkillers (like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen) or even antibiotics, a prescription fungal cream or anticonvulsants if an infection or nerve damage is the cause.
Your doctor might also suggest dopaminergics to help control the amount of movement in the legs (such as the drugs pramipexole, ropinirole, carbidopa or levodopa) or sleep medications, including benzodiazepines, to help you fall and stay asleep.
- Hot legs and feet (also called Grierson-Gopalan syndrome or burning feet syndrome) refer to uncomfortable burning or warm sensations in the lower body that often interrupt sleep. This might occur with other symptoms like tingling, pain or numbness.
- What does it mean when your feet get hot? Causes can include diabetic neuropathy or other forms of nerve damage, type 2 diabetes, poor blood flow, anemia, genetics, fungal infections, chronic kidney disease, a sedentary lifestyle, and other medical conditions that cause nerve or muscle damage, such as tarsal tunnel syndrome.
- Some tips for manning symptoms include dressing comfortably when sleeping to reduce warmth, taking care of your feet, changing your diet, exercising, boosting blood flow and trying treatments to manage nerve damage.
- Establish a nightly routine to help you sleep, correct any deficiencies, and stretch or massage yourself often. Consume more foods with magnesium, iron and B vitamins, and reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake.