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 really hot? Hot legs and feet, also called burning feet syndrome, can feel like your lower body is burning or throbbing. It might also be accompanied by other symptoms, including tingling, pain or numbness, all of which are commonly attributed to some type of nerve damage.
To prevent this type of discomfort from ruining your sleep, useful tips and treatment options include:
- improving your diet
- trying acupuncture, essential oils and massage therapy
There are a number of reasons you might experience hot feet at night, including some that have to do with how healthy your nerves, blood sugar levels and heart are.
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
- 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
- Smoking, which can interfere with blood flow
- Peripheral artery or vascular diseases, which affect circulation
- Chemotherapy side effects
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of hereditary neuropathy
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Infections and viruses, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and Epstein-Barr virus
- Athlete’s foot, a type of fungal infection
- Kidney disease, which can cause heat in certain parts of the body and circulation problems
- Hormonal changes, such as those due to pregnancy or menopause
- Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)
- Older age and being a woman (Restless leg syndrome-like symptoms tend to occur more often in the elderly and more often in women.)
- Anemia/iron deficiency or low levels of magnesium, folate and B vitamins
- Varicose veins
- The rare condition called erythromelalgia, which causes redness, burning and pain in the feet and hands
How to Cool Hot Feet
The very first thing to do when treating hot feet is 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 are among the top reasons why people may experience hot feet. It’s also possible that hot feet and/or restless leg syndrome run in your family.
Hot feet also can be tied to eating a poor diet, being sedentary or having increased stress, which can worsen inflammation.
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 diabetes or arterial diseases. Focus on nutrient-rich foods like 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 with neuropathy.
- 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 legs and feet “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 feet and lower legs to air by having them out of your covers.
- Try massaging your feet and lower legs before going to sleep, which can boost circulation. You can also rub them 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 a lower leg and foot bath.
- Experiment with lifting your feet up while you sleep using a pillow or wedge. This might reduce sensations like tingling and throbbing that can keep you up.
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 to manage 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. Many diabetics seem to be low in 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. Try peppermint, 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, which 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, in addition to getting exercise, can also help reduce symptom. 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 hot feet for more than a few weeks, especially if you have a chronic condition that affects your nerves and circulation or if you take medications that may contribute to your symptoms.
Your doctor may be able to help get your hot feet 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 refer to uncomfortable burning or warm sensations in the lower body/feet that often interrupt sleep. This might occur with other symptoms like tingling, pain or numbness (restless leg syndrome).
- Causes can include neuropathy, diabetes, poor blood flow, anemia, genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, and other medical conditions that cause nerve or muscle damage.
- 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 the legs often. Consume more foods with magnesium, iron and B vitamins, and reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake.