Leg cramps are the worst – they can be so painful to make you get up in the middle of the night! Have you ever experienced one? Nocturnal leg cramps can cause hellish pain in your calves and most leg muscles and can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. When they last for a couple of minutes, you can bet you’ll be in a world of pain. Even when they pass, your muscles will be sore in the morning – that’s how powerful they are!
Nocturnal leg cramps affect everyone regardless of age or gender. They are more common in middle-aged people, however, and usually occur overnight. Although science isn’t exactly clear on what’s causing them, doctors have a few causes in mind. Here they are:
Proper hydration is essential for healthy muscles and body. Our muscles consist of 75% water which helps them function. If you don’t keep yourself properly hydrated, you can bet you’ll experience nocturnal leg cramps and a variety of other problems.
No water in the muscles also means no essential nutrients, resulting in even bigger problems.
2. Nutritional Deficiencies
Lacking potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium has been identified as a possible cause of nocturnal leg cramps. All these electrolytes are responsible for a variety of muscle contractions and nerve impulses. For example, potassium works with chloride and sodium to generate electrical impulses in muscles and nerves, while magnesium stabilizes ATP which is essentially energy for our muscle contractions.
When the levels of these minerals drop too low, you are more likely to experience the cramps.
3. Standing for Too Long
Standing for too long, especially if you’re wearing inappropriate footwear can tire your muscles and increase the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. This has been proven in a 2012 study, so make sure to take breaks from too much standing or sitting. If you often pull your legs in uncomfortable positions, you might also trigger the cramps.
Pregnant women are more likely to experience nocturnal leg cramps, simply because of the fatigue and strain on the body.
Low thyroid hormones and activity can lower your metabolism and raise inflammation and tire your muscles, raising the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. Thyroid hormones affect proper calcium absorption, resulting in a higher risk of muscle weakness and pain.
Surprisingly, diabetes can cause nocturnal leg cramps as it causes diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). Furthermore, diabetes can also cause dehydration and excessive urination overnight, raising the risk of nocturnal leg cramps.
7. Alcohol Abuse
Drinking too much can damage your peripheral nerves and increase the risk of muscle cramps. Alcohol is a strong diuretic and drinking too much can dehydrate your body as well, while also raising the risk of magnesium deficiency. All these factors combine to increase the risk of painful leg cramps.
Diuretics, statins, diuretics, and other types of medications can flush out electrolytes from your body and dehydrate it, increasing the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. Steroids, antipsychotics, and birth control pills can do the same, especially if you go overboard with them.
How to Prevent Nocturnal Leg Cramps
To prevent the cramps, you need to stay hydrated and keep your electrolyte levels in check – you can do this by drinking sports drinks. Whenever you experience a painful cramp, massage your muscle for about 15 minutes. Avoid drinking coffee and alcohol as they can mess with your electrolyte levels.
Stretching your legs or riding a stationary bike for 10-15 minutes before going to bed has also been known to help. Make sure you’re sleeping on loose sheets and in loose pajamas. Finally, add more potassium and magnesium in your diet to keep your muscles functioning properly.