Ever wake up in the middle of the night with a cramp in your leg? Of course, you have—we’ve all been there. But why does it happen? Is it because you slept wrong? Or is there something more sinister going on? Either way, night leg cramps, also called nocturnal leg cramps, are no fun. Sometimes they go away on their own, but other times they can last for seconds or even 15 minutes.
If you’re dealing with recurrent leg cramps, you might be wondering what’s causing them and what you can do to get relief. Read on to find out.
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Here’s Why Your Leg Cramps at Night
Most of the time, the cause of leg cramps is unknown. However, there are a few possible explanations for why your leg might cramp up in the middle of the night.
1. Overexertion of Muscles
If you have a strenuous workout session or you do heavy physical work during the day, there might be chances of experiencing leg cramps at night. Overworked muscles can cramp up as a way of signaling that they need rest and recovery.
One of the primary reasons for leg cramps at night can be dehydration. While it might seem inconsequential, not drinking enough water throughout the day has been linked to an increased frequency of cramps. This is because dehydration can lead to muscle contractions.
What you can do to avoid this is to make sure you drink plenty of water during the day and avoid diuretic drinks like coffee and alcohol if possible.
3. Inadequate Stretching
You can also experience leg cramps if you don’t stretch your muscles properly before and after workouts. Regularly incorporating a good stretching routine can help alleviate this problem.
4. You Haven’t Moved Much During the Day
If you spend most of your day sitting or standing in one place, it’s not surprising that your muscles might start to cramp up at night. When you don’t use your muscles regularly, they can become weak and tight, making them more susceptible to spasms.
To avoid this, make sure to move around often during the day. Take regular breaks to walk around or stretch, and try to avoid staying in the same position for more than an hour at a time. If you have a desk job, make sure to stand up and move every 20 minutes or so. Taking frequent breaks will help keep your muscles loose and prevent cramping at night.
5. Mineral Deficiency
To prevent this, make sure you’re getting enough of these minerals in your diet by eating foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds. You can also take supplements if needed.
6. You’re Pregnant
Pregnant women often experience leg cramps. According to some experts, this could be due to the extra weight the body carries, leading to increased pressure on the muscles. Regular gentle exercises like walking or prenatal yoga can help.
You can also try lying on your side with a pillow between your knees for support.
7. You Take Certain Medications
Certain medications, like diuretics, statins, blood pressure drugs, and birth control pills, can cause night leg cramps as a side effect. If you think your medication is causing your leg cramps, talk to your doctor about changing medications or dosage amounts.
8. Nerve Compression
This is when something (like a herniated disc or bone spur) puts pressure on a nerve in the spine. This can cause a cramp in the affected muscles.
9. Poor Blood Circulation
Poor blood circulation in your legs can contribute to leg cramps at night, especially when you’re lying down. To improve circulation, you can take to engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and elevating your legs when possible.
10. Chronic Diseases
Chronic diseases like diabetes, liver disease, and thyroid conditions have been linked to leg cramps. If you’re dealing with chronic diseases, consult with your healthcare provider about your symptoms.
While age is not a direct cause, it has been linked to the increased frequency of leg cramps. As you age, your muscles naturally wear down, making them more susceptible to cramping.
Treating Leg Cramps
Most of the time, leg cramps will go away on their own after a few minutes. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain and discomfort. Try massaging the muscle that’s cramping or stretching it gently until the spasm subsides.
You can also apply heat or cold to the affected area using a heating pad, warm towel, ice pack, or cold compress. Taking a warm bath can also help relax your muscles and ease pain from leg cramps.
Learn More: 7 Foods That Help Prevent Muscle Cramps
Nobody likes waking up in the middle of the night with a painful muscle spasm in their calf (or anywhere else). But if it happens occasionally, there’s usually no need for concern.
However, if you’re dealing with recurring leg cramps that are affecting your quality of life, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options.
In most cases, simple lifestyle changes—such as staying hydrated and stretching regularly—can help prevent leg cramps from happening in the first place. And if home remedies don’t seem to be providing relief, there are other options available that may help ease muscle spasms and prevent them from coming back again and again.