Proper blood circulation is vital for your health, but it’s not always easy to get your blood flowing—especially while you sleep at night.
Your lungs, heart, and muscles rely on a steady flow of blood and oxygen to perform their essential roles and remove any waste created by those organs. Immune system cells also require proper circulation to move throughout the body and fight off potential disease and infection. Without proper circulation, your body can’t function at its best.
Keep reading to learn what causes poor circulation and how to address the root causes so you can improve blood circulation both during the day and while you sleep.
Symptoms of Poor CirculationPoor blood circulation isn't a condition; it's a symptom of other underlying health issues like diabetes, obesity, and certain heart conditions. To "treat" poor blood circulation, you need to identify and address the primary condition prohibiting proper blood flow.
How can you tell if you have poor circulation? Common symptoms of poor circulation include:
- Muscle cramps
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Cold hands or feet
- Slow healing
- Varicose veins
Causes of Poor CirculationWhat causes poor circulation?
As previously mentioned, it results from other underlying conditions, some of which can pose significant threats to your health. If you suspect you have poor blood circulation, see your doctor as soon as possible to identify the root cause.
Some common culprits of poor circulation include atherosclerosis, diabetes, peripheral artery disease, varicose veins, blood clots, obesity, and Raynaud’s Disease.
12 Tips to Improve Leg Circulation
The best treatment for poor leg circulation is simply moving your body and literally “getting the blood pumping.”
However, those recovering from illness or surgery or who otherwise have limited mobility may have to find gentler ways to get their blood flowing. The following habits and light exercises can help improve your blood flow during the day or while you sleep.
1. Go for a Walk
If you can walk, either with a walker or other means of assistance, even a gentle stroll can effectively increase blood flow to feet, legs, and rest of the body. Walking can also help prevent cardiovascular disease.
This low-impact exercise contracts the veins in your legs, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. It makes you feel better, too, especially if you walk outside in the fresh air.
Performing light stretches every day can also do wonders to improve blood circulation. You can even stretch sitting down, getting your blood flowing to carry oxygen and white blood cells all around your body.
3. Practice Better Posture
Remaining mindful of your posture when sitting and standing can also improve leg circulation. If you’re in the habit of sitting with one leg over the other, this could be harming the blood circulation in your lower extremities.
Instead, sit with your feet flat on the floor and use a foot rest under your desk or in front of the sofa for added comfort. When in bed, use a foot pillow to prop your feet up while you sleep.
4. Wear Compression Stockings
Compression stockings and socks can help keep your blood flowing while you fly or lay down for a prolonged period.
The pressure from the socks pushes blood up to your heart and can prevent your legs from becoming sore and tired. They can also ease the discomfort from swollen ankles and feet and can prevent varicose veins. Keeping blood constantly flowing in your lower legs helps prevent clots from forming.
5. Use Knee Pads
Similar to compression stockings, compression knee pads can improve circulation in your legs. Knee pads can also offer stability for your knee joints and reduce the risk of injury during activity. You can also buy heated knee pads that provide even great comfort and encourage blood flow.
6. Avoid Smoking
Among other damaging effects on your health, smoking contributes to poor circulation. Smoking can cause a waxy substance known as plaque to build up in your arteries. When this plaque hardens—a condition called atherosclerosis—it limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood.
While quitting smoking may be easier said than done, this is just one more reason to make today your quit day.
7. Manage Your Stress Levels
During times of stress, your nervous system releases a flood of hormones that can increase plaque and restrict blood flow. Stress can also cause your blood vessels to constrict in a process called vasoconstriction.
Stressful situations will always pop up in life, but how you manage these moments can make the difference between good and poor blood circulation. For better circulation and a plethora of other health benefits, it's important to find a stress management technique that works for you.
8. Elevate Your Legs
Standing or sitting for prolonged periods can cause swelling in your legs and feet as blood circulation slows. Long-term inactivity can also cause blood clotting in the legs, known as deep vein thrombosis.
When your feet are raised, gravity helps do the work of bringing blood back down into your heart, allowing it to circulate and preventing it from pooling in your legs.
Elevate your legs at least three times per day in 20-minute intervals by putting a pillow or footstool under your feet, keeping your feet raised at least 6 inches above your heart. You can also try laying on your back and resting your legs straight up against the wall.
9. Use a Bed Wedge and Pillows
In addition to regularly elevating your legs throughout the day, you should also consider using a pillow to raise them while you sleep.
When lying down, adding a pillow under your feet (for back sleepers) or between your knees (for side sleepers) can help keep blood flowing.
Meanwhile, using a bed wedge pillow can elevate your head and back. As a bonus, this can also improve snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea by opening the airways.
10. Stay Hydrated
Drinking water every day helps your body perform at its best, in part because it improves circulation.
In dehydration mode, your blood retains more sodium, making it blood thicker and harder to circulate. Drinking the recommended 8 cups of water a day can help keep your blood flowing regularly.
11. Try a Massage
Getting a massage can be an effective (not to mention relaxing) treatment for poor circulation in the feet and body.
In one study, massages proved effective in relieving muscle pain and increasing blood flow. According to the study, the massages appeared to trigger a vascular response that lasted for days. The circulatory response was not limited to just the area of application.
12. Drink Tea
A recent study shows that drinking green tea can help reduce the likelihood of developing coronary artery disease. Another study found that black tea helped lower bad cholesterol, which accumulates along your artery lining and limits blood flow.Whether you prefer green or black tea, brewing up a cup can help to improve your blood circulation.
Exercises to Improve Your Blood Circulation
The best and cheapest poor blood circulation treatment is exercise—walking, running, strength training, yoga, swimming, or any exercise you enjoy. Moving your body is a simple way to improve blood flow throughout your body.
These resources will show you how to improve blood flow to your legs with some simple exercises.
Lying Down Exercises
- Leg Elevation: Lie on the floor next to a wall. Stretch your legs up the wall and move your tailbone to where the floor meets the wall. Your legs should now be straight up in the air against the wall. Hold this position for 5-10 minutes.
- Leg Lifts: Laying on your back with your arms at your side, slowly raise one leg until it is about one foot off the ground or higher. Repeat 10-15 times, and switch legs. Then repeat on each side two more times.
- Ankle Pumps: Laying on your back, stretch your ankles so that your toes point toward your head. Repeat for three sets of 10-15 reps.
- Ankle Rotation: From a seated position, slightly raise one leg. Rotate your ankle clockwise 10 times, then rotate counterclockwise 10 times. Repeat with your other leg.
- Heel and Toe Raises: Sit with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your heels off the floor, and bring them back down. Repeat at least 10 times. Then, from the starting position, slowly raise your toes off the floor and back down again. Repeat at least 10 times.
Calf Stretch: From a seated position on the floor, take a towel or stretchy exercise band in both of your hands and place it around your foot. The towel or band should now resemble a “U” shape with the center of your foot resting in the bottom of the U and your hands holding either end.
Now, simply pull the band upward, lifting your foot off the ground. You should feel a stretching sensation in your calf. Hold this position for 10 seconds, and repeat for a total of 10 reps. Repeat on the opposite leg.
- Heel Lifts: Stand on a flat surface with your legs shoulder-width apart. Shift your weight onto the toes and balls of your feet as you lift your heels off the ground. Hold this position for 3-4 seconds, and then slowly return your heels to the ground. If you have difficulty balancing in this position, hold onto a chair or countertop for support. Repeat this exercise for a total of three sets of 10 repetitions.
- Sit to Stand: Start the exercise by sitting on the edge of a chair. Position your feet so that your toes are under your knees. Lean forward until your nose is aligned above your knees and toes. Place your hands down against the seat of your chair and press upward as you stand. To sit back down, simply reverse the order of these steps. Perform this exercise for up to three sets of 10 repetitions.
- Squats: Position your legs about shoulder-width apart, and squat down with your arms fully extended forward. Repeat three sets of 10-15 reps.
Take Simple Steps to Improve Blood Circulation
You don’t need any fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership to improve poor blood circulation. A simple walk in the park, sleeping with your legs elevated, light yoga, and gentle stretching can significantly improve your circulation.
The best way to sleep for circulation while you sleep is to put a pillow under your feet. As a side sleeper, you can put a pillow between your knees for greater comfort too. If you experience sleep apnea or snoring, a wedge pillow behind your head and shoulders props you up to open the airways, allowing better sleep and blood circulation.
Are Recliners Bad for Leg Circulation?
As previously discussed, sitting for a prolonged period can have a detrimental effect on blood circulation. Recliners can actually help to improve circulation by raising the legs above the heart while in the reclined position. However, you should avoid sitting for too long in one position by taking frequent breaks to walk around or doing some stretches.