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

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One of the most common health issues that many people face with every day are cramps. They are pretty painful and they can even wake you up in the middle of the night. This type of cramps is called nocturnal leg cramp. They are involuntary contractions of the calf muscles and they usually appear in the middle of the night or when you take a rest.

Cramps can appear in any muscle as well as in the soles of your feet.

They can last from several seconds up to several minutes. The pain which is usually sharp and intense can disappear, but the soreness can stay for a while.

Anyone can have muscle cramps, no matter their age. They mostly appear in middle-aged or older people. Cramps can also often appear in teenagers and people who exercise at night.

It still isn’t very clear what causes them, but numerous factors can contribute to their appearance. Take a look at them!

1. Dehydration

We need to have a hydrated body so that we can have healthy organs and a healthy mind. This also applies for our muscles. Water takes up to 75% of the muscle tissue. It helps our muscles contract and relax.

If we don’t drink enough water throughout the day, we’ll have more muscle cramps at night. Water is also important for a proper circulation of nutrients in the body.

If we don’t intake enough water, we won’t intake the essential nutrients. That will cause an imbalance of the electrolytes (calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium).

2. Nutritional Deficiency

If we have imbalanced mineral electrolytes like magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium, it can definitely lead to the appearance of exercise-related and nocturnal cramps.

We need these minerals in order to have muscles that work well. We need good muscles in order to have good muscle contractions and nerve impulses. We need sodium in order to maintain a normal balance between the body and the fluids, as well as nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction.

Potassium works with chloride and sodium so that it can provoke electrical impulses in the nerves and muscles. Calcium also has a very important role in the generation of muscle contractions and nerve impulses.

Magnesium helps in the stabilization of ATP – adenosine triphosphate which is actually the source of energy for muscle contractions. It also acts as an electrolyte in body fluids.

If you lack any of these minerals, you’ll probably feel cramps and other muscle-related problems often. Vitamin B12 is also one of the vitamins which can have an effect on the muscle function.

3. Overexertion or Prolonged Standing

If you stand for long periods of time and you wear high heels as well as shoes that aren’t very good for you, you can often feel overexertion or muscle fatigue that will cause the appearance of leg cramps at night.

The long periods of standing also increase your risk of the appearance of varicose veins. Make sure you avoid long periods of standing or do something so that you can stretch your legs for a while.

Nocturnal leg cramps can also appear because of improper sitting or if your legs are in an uncomfortable position while you sleep.

4. Pregnancy

Women who are pregnant often experience leg cramps at night. They usually appear during the second trimester and last until the third trimester.

The cramps can vary in intensity. They can appear mild or extremely painful. They can also appear because of fatigue, reduced circulation or an increased pressure of the uterus on certain nerves.

5. Hypothyroidism

If you have low levels of thyroid hormones, they can provoke the appearance of calf cramps and muscle weakness at night. These hormones can have an effect on the use and absorption of calcium. Calcium deficiency is often the cause for the appearance of numbness, cramps, pain and weakness of the muscles.

Low metabolism can also appear because of low thyroid hormones. If we want to be energetic, we need to have a high metabolism. The low levels of thyroid hormones can increase the inflammation and that can provoke muscle cramping and pain.

6. Uncontrolled Diabetes

Diabetes is also something that can cause your leg muscles to cramp. It is the first symptom for the appearance of a kind of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. Diabetes patients can often experience sharp pain in the leg muscles, but also tingling and numbness.

Dehydration as well as excessive urination can be caused from increased levels of blood sugar and that leads to night leg cramps. If you have diabetes and you experience night cramps, visit your doctor as soon as possible!

7. Alcohol Abuse

Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts can cause alcohol neuropathy, but it can also damage your peripheral nerves. That causes muscle cramps and leg pain.

Alcohol is a diuretic which means that drinking excessively can cause dehydration. Another thing it can cause is a magnesium deficiency.

Drinking alcohol excessively can increase the content of lactic acid in the body which also causes cramps and pain. 

8. Certain Medications

Some medications can also cause nocturnal cramps. Those are diuretics and cholesterol-lowering agents (statins) which cause loss of electrolytes and water from the body and that causes the appearance of cramps.

Other pills include birth control pills, antipsychotics and steroids. In case you start feeling cramps after you’ve started with some new medication, visit your doctor immediately.

Here are some tips that can help you prevent leg cramping at night:

  • Consume more sport drinks with electrolytes because they can also prevent the problem
  • Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids so that you can prevent dehydration
  • When you feel like you’re having a cramp, massage the muscle with your hands for 10-15 minutes
  • Avoid alcohol, soda beverages and coffee because they can only increase the risk of cramping
  • Ride your stationary bicycle for 10 minutes before going to bed
  • Always stretch your leg muscles before going to bed. Your muscle tension will be eased and you’ll manage to reduce the appearance of cramps while you sleep.
  • Add more magnesium to your diet. There is plenty of magnesium in nuts and seeds. Pregnant women shouldn’t take magnesium supplements and should consult a doctor
  • Walking or jiggling the leg after a cramp sends a signal to the brain that the muscle needs to contract and relax. This can help you speed up the recovery
  • Keep your bed sheets and blankets loose around your feet and make sure your toes are not distorted
  • Put a hot compress over the cramped muscle. You’ll help it relax and loosen up and the cramps will be relieved
  • Include potassium in your diet. It can be found in broccoli, dates, pork, bananas, fish, grapes, grapefruit, lamb, apricots cabbage and oranges.