Causes of Leg Cramps at Night – How To Stop Them

Sudden pain in your legs, calf muscles, or thighs are known as leg cramps. What is less well known are the causes of leg cramps at night while sleeping.

Several factors contribute to these very painful cramps. This article discusses these causes, We highly encourage starting off with simple management techniques first for pain relief before looking for more complex solutions.

Seeking to know the root cause of these cramps is important for their management .

It is always advisable to discuss with your doctor if you frequently experience leg cramps either during the day, or at night.

Are Leg Cramps At Night Similar To Cramps During the Day?

Leg cramps are bad enough when they occur during the day, but they are doubly uncomfortable when they occur during the night when you are sleeping!

Only someone who has experienced such nocturnal leg cramps (NLC) can fully appreciate the amount of pain you can have. Severe leg cramps while sleeping are truly painful!

Leg cramp in a senior on a bed - Causes of Leg Cramps at Night
Leg cramp occurring in a in a senior on a bed

The sudden contraction of muscles…..

Muscles feel tightened and stretched…….

Really, really painful!!

It usually affects your calf muscles from where it radiates to your thighs or feet.

People who have never experienced such pain may ask, what do leg cramps feel like? It feels as if your muscles are stretched to a breaking point and then frozen in that state! I can attest to that!

For a while, you experience an inability to move your leg. Fortunately, such a feeling may or may not last for a long time, but it does cause severe pain in your leg area.

If you happen to have such leg cramp pains at night, your immediate reaction is to scream and begin to panic.

A startling statistic from Medical News Today (2022) reveals that almost 30% of people experience leg cramps at night five times a month. So, you are not alone!

What is important is how you deal with it! Knowing simple things you can do to quickly alleviate the pain makes a huge difference rather than hysterics caused by the element of surprise.

7 Causes of Leg Cramps at Night

Many factors may cause leg cramps. Check a previous article for more information – Reasons for Leg Cramps – Natural Remedies that Work

Muscle Fatigue

Muscle fatigue means tired muscles which are unable to exert the force required for daily activities. There are various causes of muscle tiredness one of which is extreme exercise.

One of the important roles of blood flow is to provide O2 to the working muscles to create energy while at the same time remove the waste by-products of metabolic processes.

It has been well documented that decreased oxygen availability to exercising muscle has consequences on muscle fatigue. 

Tired muscles desire oxygen and are forced to generate a muscle contraction. Such contractions can cause leg cramps during the night. Athletes often have leg cramps issues. It is because their muscles get tired due to severe exercise.

Even a normal person, who was engaged in some hard activity throughout the day can experience leg cramps at night.

Inactive Muscles

Muscles are made to move. They get “uptight” if you don’t move them. People who spend their entire day sitting in one place, facing a computer screen often remain restless at night due to severe leg cramps.

When your muscles remain inactive for a long time, they get shortened and tight. If you try to stretch them, they cause cramps. Such cramps normally occur at night.

Try to keep your muscles active. It will keep your muscles in movement as well as decrease the chances of leg cramps at night.

Poor Posture

Elderly Woman With Rounded Shoulders - Causes of Leg Cramps at Night
Poor Posture in Aging Woman

A large number of people do not focus on their posture. A bad posture hurts our muscles because sitting in an awkward position for a long time tightens and shortens muscles.

In such cases, muscles need to work harder than usual to get the necessary oxygen they need..

Bad posture is seen as sitting with legs crossed or with one leg resting on another. As a result, pressure is exerted on muscles due to sitting in incorrect positioning and this can serve as one of the causes of leg cramps at night.

Bad posture not only causes cramps but can also cause many serious health issues.

Age

Anyone at any age can face leg cramps, but adults and older people often experience them more frequently.

33% percent of people over age 60, experience leg cramps once every two months, while people aged 50 and above experience this pain once. Only 7% of children suffer from leg cramps (Cleveland Clinics 2022)

Muscles and nerves change with age. They become small and weak with numbers. Muscles lose their strength and force with time.

A connection exists between muscles and nerves. With age, the connection between these two are weakened. As a result, diminished signals between nerves and muscles can cause severe leg cramps while sleeping.

Causes of Leg Cramps at Night – Could be Dehydration

Dehydration decreases the amount of fluid and electrolytes in your body. In such a condition, important organs like the heart and lungs start using this stored fluid.

Less vital organs like muscles therefore do not get enough fluid and electrolytes, which can cause cramps in the legs.

Muscles contain 76% of water. A deficiency of water makes them weak, resulting in leg and muscle cramps. One of the first symptoms of dehydration is leg cramps at night.

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Hydration Water Bottles

Consume sufficient water to keep yourself hydrated if you do not want to experience disturbing pain at night. If you hate drinking water, check out a previous article on alternatives – How to Stay Hydrated When You Hate Water.

From personal experience I know that it can be challenging to consume all the water you should in a day and there is the tendency to even forget to hydrate. Use a hydration water bottle graduated with the time for each hydration drink. Keep the bottle with you at all times. These bottles are a life saver and they come in a wide range of designs and different colors to suit your style. Check them out.

Severe Leg Cramps While Sleeping Occur During Pregnancy

3 out of 10 pregnant women suffer from severe leg cramps while sleeping. What then is the connection between pregnancy and leg cramps?

Women often experience leg cramps in the second and third trimesters. It is due to less calcium and high phosphorus in the blood. There exists another reason as well.

Due to the baby’s extra weight, pressure is exerted on the legs which cause leg cramps at night. A growing baby puts pressure on nerves which goes down to the legs.

Most pregnant ladies consume calcium supplements. Such supplements decrease the severity of pain and leg cramps.

Other Causes of Leg Cramps at Night

Alcoholism and certain medical conditions may also cause leg cramps at night. Do try to reduce alcohol intake and gradually wean yourself off it if possible as it can be a cause of leg cramps, especially if there is an interaction with medication.

How to Alleviate Leg Cramp Pain

Check a previous article for more information – Reasons for Leg Cramps – Natural Remedies that Work

Here are eight steps from the Cleveland Clinic I have used as modified below, that you can quickly apply when you are surprised by a muscle cramp to alleviate and get rid of leg cramps:

  1. Stretch. Straighten your leg and then flex it, pulling your toes towards your shin to stretch the muscles.
  2. Massage. Use your hands or a roller to massage the muscles. You may also use a Theraworx Fast Acting Roll for Muscle Cramps, Muscle Spasm, Leg Soreness and Foot Relief to help alleviate the excruciating pain.
  3. Stand. Get up. This may appear impossible, but try to do so, grab onto support, and then press your feet against the floor as many times as you can despite the jarring pain. Do this repeatedly and resist the temptation to sit down. It appears that each time I pamper myself by sitting down that the episode does not quickly terminate. You may prefer to sit down to do this, but this exercise is better done standing
  4. Walk. Wiggle your leg while you walk around for as long as you can.
  5. Apply heat. Use a heating pad on the affected area or take a warm bath. I usually do either #5 or #6 and not both. My personal preference is the heating pad
  6. Apply cold. Wrap a bag of ice in a towel and apply it to the area.
  7. Pain killers. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with the pain if needed.
  8. Elevate. Prop up your leg after the cramp starts to feel better.

My personal tip – Go back to bed. Sleep with your legs propped up using a leg elevation pillow. These pillows are quite helpful and are specially designed for use than propping with regular pillows which easily go flat on you.. Check these previous articles for more information

Exercises

Leg cramp exercises recommended by the Cleveland Clinic are described below.

If cramp is in the calf muscle: While standing (or sitting with your leg unfolded before you), straighten your leg and lift your foot until your toes are pointing at your shin. Pull on your toes if you are able to reach them. Also try walking around on your heels.

Conclusion – Causes of Leg Cramps at Night

Cramps are extremely painful if you have ever experienced them before. Causes of leg cramps at night are varied. Severe leg cramps while sleeping is not something you want to experience. This article discusses 7 causes of leg cramps at night.

There is no blanket cure for them – from personal experience. The triggers and causes differ by individual. Painstakingly identify your triggers and you are well on the route to taking control over those debilitating leg cramps at night!

Of course, you must consult with your healthcare professional as a matter of urgency if these cramps begin to occur more frequently and with increased intensity as there may be underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed.

To see quick restorative improvements, start off by hydrating and drinking lots of water. You will be glad you did!

If you found value in this article, kindly leave a comment and share your own experience with any of the causes of leg cramps at night in this article

References

[1] Leg cramps at night: Causes, risk factors, and how to stop them. (2022, May 18). Retrieved January 20, 2023, from www.medicalnewstoday.com website: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326327#causes-and-risk-factors

[2] Lorenzo, I., Serra-Prat, M., & Yébenes, J. C. (2019). The Role of Water Homeostasis in Muscle Function and Frailty: A Review. Nutrients, 11(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081857

[3] Leg Cramps at Night: Causes, Pain Relief & Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic website: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14170-leg-cramps

2 thoughts on “Causes of Leg Cramps at Night – How To Stop Them”

  1. I have suffered with severe leg cramps for a few years now I am 82 and I have severe varicose veins I get the cramps mainly at night but occasionally during the day I have noticed recently that if I feel a cramp coming on I get up and use the toilet and most of the time the cramp eases off.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing this interesting tip Alex. I cannot put my finger on why this happens, but if it works for you, that is fantastic. It may also help some other folks.
      P.S. Did you share this with your doctor as well? They may be able to find a correlation.

      Ceci

      Reply

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