Reasons Why Your Legs Cramp Up at Night and How to Fix It


Cramps can be a real nightmare! They can wake you in the middle of the night and ruin your sleep. Nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that occur suddenly in the middle of the night or periods of rest.

Contractions can also occur in the soles of the feet or other muscles.

These cramps can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Even though the intense pain may disappear, muscle soreness may remain for some time.

Every person can get these cramps, regardless of the age. However, they are more common in middle-aged people or older. Cramps can often occur in teenagers and individuals who exercise at night.

Even though the root cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still unclear, there are various factors that can contribute to this painful problem.

Check them out!

1. Dehydration

Proper hydration is essential for a healthy body and mind. It also has an impact on the performance of the muscles. Water comprises 75% of muscle tissue and helps them contract and relax.

So, if you do not maintain proper levels of hydration throughout the day, you are more likely to experience legs cramps at night. Water also plays an important role for proper circulation of nutrients in the body.

Without water, muscles will be deprived of essential nutrients, which can cause imbalances of electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium).

2. Nutritional Deficiency

Any kind of imbalance of mineral electrolytes – potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium in our body can lead to nocturnal and exercise-related cramps.

These minerals maintain the proper work of your muscles and are responsible for both nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Sodium is essential for maintaining a normal body-fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve impulse generation.

Potassium works along with sodium and chloride to generate electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves. Calcium plays an important role in the generation of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.

Magnesium helps in stabilizing ATP – adenosine triphosphate, the energy source for muscle contractions. Moreover, it serves as an electrolyte in body fluids.

If you are deficient in any of these minerals, you are more likely to experience cramps and other muscle-related issues. In addition, certain B vitamin can impact muscle function, especially vitamin B12.

3. Overexertion or Prolonged Standing

Prolonged standing and standing while wearing poorly fitting shoes or high heels can lead to muscle fatigue or overexertion, which in turn causes leg cramps at night.

According to a 2012 study, prolonged standing at work can increase your risk of varicose veins and nocturnal leg cramps. In order to prevent these problems, you should implement interventions to interrupt or reduce prolonged standing at work.

Nocturnal leg cramps can be also caused by improper sitting or putting the legs in awkward and uncomfortable positions when sleeping.

4. Pregnancy

Pregnant women are more likely to experience leg cramps at night. This starts in the second trimester and lasts through the third trimester.

These cramps can be different in their intensity, from mild to extremely painful. They can occur as a result of fatigue, an increasing pressure of the uterus on certain nerves, or reduced circulation in the legs from the pressure of the baby on blood vessels.

5. Hypothyroidism

A low level of thyroid hormones can contribute to muscle weakness and calf cramps at night. The thyroid hormones affect calcium absorption and utilization. The deficiency of calcium is related to muscle weakness, pain, cramps, and numbness.

Low thyroid hormones can also cause low metabolism. High metabolism is essential for your energy and how your muscles feel after exercising. A low level of thyroid hormones can increase inflammation that can contribute to the muscle cramping and pain.

6. Uncontrolled Diabetes

Diabetes can also cause leg muscle cramping. Actually, it is a symptom of diabetic neuropathy, a form of nerve damage. Diabetes patients may experience sharp pain in the leg muscle, numbness and tingling.

Elevated blood sugar causes subsequent dehydration and excessive urination, which in turn leads to night leg cramps. In a case you are experiencing muscle cramps associated with diabetes, make sure to consult your doctor right away!

7. Alcohol Abuse

The excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your peripheral nerves and cause alcohol neuropathy which is usually characterized by leg pain and muscle cramps.

Alcohol has a diuretic effect, so the excessive drinking can lead to dehydration. Moreover, it can cause a magnesium deficiency.

Do not forget to mention that excess alcohol can increase the content of lactic acid in the body. Excessive lactic acid can cause pain and cramps.

8. Certain Medications

Medications can also cause nocturnal cramps. Certain medications like cholesterol-lowering agents (statins) and diuretics can cause loss of water and electrolytes from the body, which increases your risk of experiencing cramps.

Antipsychotics, birth control pills and steroids can also lead to cramps. If you experience cramps suddenly after you start taking a new medication, make sure to consult your doctor immediately.

Tips to fix and prevent leg cramping at night:

  • Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids in order to prevent dehydration.
  • The consumption of sport drinks with electrolytes can also prevent the problem
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee and soda beverages that can only increase the risk of cramping
  • If you experience a cramp, massage the muscle with your hands for 10-15 minutes
  • Always stretch your leg muscles before going to sleep. This will ease muscle tension and reduce the risk of having a cramp while sleeping. According to a 2012 study, stretching before going to bed can reduce the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps in adults
  • You can also ride your stationary bicycle for 10 minutes before going to bed
  • Make sure to keep bed sheets and blankets loose around your feet so that your toes are not distorted
  • Adding more magnesium to your diet can be beneficial as well. Nuts and seeds have a rich content of magnesium. However, pregnant women are not recommended to take magnesium supplements and should consult a doctor
  • Walking or jiggling the leg after a cramp sends a signal to the brain that our muscle needs to contract and relax. This can speed up the recovery
  • Try to include enough potassium in your diet. Dates, bananas, grapes, broccoli, fish, pork, lamb, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, and apricots are excellent sources of potassium
  • Applying a hot compress to the cramped muscle can relax and loosen it up, which in turn will relieve the cramp.

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