Leg cramps can wake you in the middle of the night and ruin your good night sleep. Nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the calf muscles and they occur suddenly in the middle of the night or other longer periods of rest. These kinds of cramps last from a few seconds to several minutes, after what the intense pain may disappear, but muscle soreness may remain longer.
The root cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still unknown, but there are various factors that contribute to this painful problem.
Proper hydration has an impact on the performance of the muscles, because water comprises 75% of muscle tissue and helps them contract and relax. This means that if you don’t hydrate throughout the day, there are more chances to experience legs cramps during the night. Also without water, muscles will be deprived of essential nutrients, which can cause imbalances of electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium.
Imbalance of mineral electrolytes – potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium in your body can be a reason for nocturnal and exercise-related cramps.
These minerals are responsible for both nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Sodium is very important for maintaining a normal body-fluid balance, also for muscle contraction and nerve impulse generation.
Potassium along with sodium and chloride generate electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves. Calcium is very important for the generation of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
Magnesium stabilizes the ATP – adenosine triphosphate, the energy source for muscle contractions and it serves as an electrolyte in body fluids.
Overexertion or Prolonged Standing
A longer period of standing on your feet or standing in poorly fitting shoes or high heels can lead to muscle fatigue or overexertion, which in the end results in leg cramps at night. Prolonged standing at work increases the risk of varicose veins and nocturnal leg cramps. To prevent these from happening you should make some changes in order to interrupt or reduce prolonged standing at work.
It is more likely for pregnant women to experience leg cramps at night. Crams start to happen in the second trimester and lasts all through the third trimester. The cramps in pregnant women can be different in their intensity, from mild to extremely painful and can occur as a result of fatigue, an increasing pressure of the uterus on certain nerves and also as a result of reduced circulation in the legs from the pressure of the baby on blood vessels.
A low level of thyroid hormones can also be the reason for muscle weakness and calf cramps at night. The thyroid hormones affect calcium absorption and utilization, so the deficiency of calcium is closely related to muscle weakness, pain, cramps, and numbness.
Diabetes can also be the reason for leg muscle cramping. People suffering from diabetes may experience sharp pain in the leg muscle, numbness and also tingling. Elevated blood sugar causes subsequent dehydration and excessive urination, which in the end leads to leg cramps at night.
Alcohol has a diuretic effect, so the excessive drinking can lead to dehydration and even more, it can cause a magnesium deficiency, all of which can cause leg cramps. It is important to mention that excess alcohol increases the content of lactic acid in the body and with that to cause pain and cramps.
Medications may also be the reason for nocturnal cramps. Some medications, such as cholesterol-lowering agents and diuretics can be the cause for the loss of water and electrolytes from the body, which on the other hand increases the risk of cramps.
Other medications that can cause leg cramps are antipsychotics, birth control pills and steroids. So if you start to experience cramps right after you start taking a new medication, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Here are some tips that will help you fix and prevent leg cramping at night:
- Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Try consuming sport drinks with electrolytes, as they can also prevent the cramps
- Avoid alcohol, coffee and soda beverages, as they only increase the risk of cramping
- If you experience a cramp, try massaging the muscle with your hands for 10-15 minutes to ease the pain
- Always stretch your leg muscles before going to sleep to ease muscle tension and reduce the risk of having a cramp while sleeping.
- If you have a stationary bicycle ride it for 10 minutes before going to bed
- Keep the bed sheets and blankets loose around your feet to be sure that your toes are not distorted
- Add more magnesium to your diet. Try consuming more nuts and seeds because they are rich in magnesium. However, if you’re pregnant it’s not recommended to take magnesium supplements and should consult a doctor first.
- If you start walking or jiggling your leg after a cramp, you’ll send a signal to the brain that your muscle needs to contract and relax and you will speed up the recovery.
- Include enough potassium in your diet, by eating dates, bananas, grapes, broccoli, fish, pork, lamb, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, and apricots.
I hope that you’ve found this article to be helpful for your problem with leg cramps and that my advices will help you fix it.