This Is Why You Have Leg Cramps At Night (And How To Stop It)

leg cramps

Are you familiar with the pains that occur in your legs while you sleep? Those are night leg cramps, or nocturnal leg cramps. They are able to wake you up and usually occur in the night time due to inactivity during the day. Nocturnal leg cramps mostly occur in the calf, but they can also occur in the feet and in the thighs.

The muscle pain usually lasts from a couple of seconds to around several minutes. Once the pain is gone, the muscles usually are sore for the rest of the night, or even during the whole following day. Leg cramps are typical for both men and women, but more frequent in people above 50.

Leg Cramps at Night, Different From Restless Leg Syndrome

Nocturnal leg cramps and restless leg syndrome usually occur during the sleep, and this is their only similarity. The rest of the leg cramps’ and restless leg syndrome’s features are mainly different, and here are some of the differences:

  • the restless leg syndrome is more of a sensation of soreness or crawling sensation in the legs
  • restless leg syndrome does not cause pain or cramps, which is not the case with leg cramps
  • moving your leg will help you relieve restless leg syndrome, unlike in the case with leg cramps, when you should stretch your leg instead of moving it
  • when experiencing restless leg syndrome, you get a feeling where you want to move your legs, while when experiencing leg cramps, you want to avoid movement

Causes And Risk Factors

What exactly causes nocturnal leg cramps is still unclear, but there are possible causes and risk factor that may stimulate the leg cramps, such as:

  • sitting for too long
  • sitting improperly
  • over-exertion of the leg muscles
  • standing for too long or working on concrete floors

Still, leg cramps can sometimes be the result of some medical conditions, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Pregnancy
  • Structural disorders (like flat feet for instance)
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Endocrine disorders (like diabetes for instance)
  • Use of diuretics, statins, beta agonists

Treatment and Prevention

The method of treatment of nocturnal leg cramps depends on the cause. For example, if the cause of the nocturnal leg cramps is dehydration, then you should consume more liquids during the day. Still, we present you a list of some other treatments and methods of prevention that will alleviate the night leg cramps:

  • take a warm, relaxing bath before you go to sleep and alleviate the tightness from the muscles
  • put a heating pad on the affected area
  • ensure you always wear comfortable and ergonomic shoes and you avoid high heels
  • consume horse chestnut, as it has been shown to improve the blood circulation in the body and in the legs
  • stretch before you go to sleep
  • take in sufficient amounts of magnesium or potassium, as lack of these minerals can often cause leg cramps
  • try acupuncture, as it will loose the tightness from your leg muscles
  • practice water exercising in order to build leg muscles

What to do When Cramps Occur

In case that a nocturnal leg cramp strikes you in the middle of the night, you will probably feel almost paralyzed. That is why it is important for you to know how to handle this situation and how to find the relief and reduce the soreness afterwards. You can utilize the following tips:

  • eat a tablespoon of yellow mustard, as it helps in relieving the discomfort
  • get up from bed and walk around for a while. Shake your legs so that you improve the blood flow in them
  • sit on the floor and extend your legs in front of you. Bend your feet at the ankles and point your toes toward your knees, pulling your feet so that you get a good stretch
  • gently massage the cramped muscle, making circular motions
  • check if the sheets and the blankets are loose enough and they do not contract the leg muscles