Sleep issues: What causes night-time leg cramps and how to stop them

Leg cramps at night can be a painful and disconcerting problem, often leaving you with a worried mind and sore muscles the next day. But what exactly causes them?

TEMPUR gives you an overview of what night cramps are, why we get them, and possible ways to prevent leg cramps for a more restful night’s sleep…

What are night cramps?

Ever woken up in the middle of the night with a searing pain in the back of your calf? This is a night leg cramp.

Essentially, it is an involuntary contraction of the leg muscles which may also feel like a spasm. It commonly happens in the calf, but cramps in the thigh and feet are also possible.

Night leg cramps occur when someone is either sleeping or resting for a long period of time. They vary in the length of time – some are over in ten seconds, others in ten minutes!

The pain is extremely uncomfortable during the cramp, and will change into a tenderness the following day.

Why do I get night cramps?

There are multiple reasons why you might be suffering from leg cramps during the night, and some are more serious than others.

The most likely case is that your cramps are linked to nerve issues or general muscle fatigue. However, common causes can include:

  • Muscle strain – usually from exercise
  • Medication – such as drugs used to lower blood pressure (diuretics) or statins which are used to lower cholesterol
  • Dehydration and diet – electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium help our muscles work properly. These minerals are better processed with fluids, thus when the body is dehydrated there can be a lack of them. This can cause the leg muscles to cramp
  • Diabetic nerve damage

Pregnancy can also cause night leg cramps, and the risk increases with age. However, night leg cramps should not be confused with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) – a common condition of the nervous system that causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs

Whilst there is also a link between pregnancy and RLS, it is a separate condition with different symptoms and causes. Most significantly, the pain associated with a cramp is more of a discomfort with RLS.

How can U stop night cramps?

Night cramps are not too serious, and there are a few simple things you can try which could prevent night cramps or help you deal with the pain during a cramp:

  • Stretch – any muscle pain can be helped by stretching out the sore spot. Try pointing and flexing your toe during a cramp and regularly stretching your calves otherwise
  • Keep hydrated
  • Massage the cramped muscle
  • Hot bath – this will help soothe the pain present after the cramp

Alternatively, ensure you’re sleeping on a mattress which is providing you with maximum comfort. The TEMPUR Hybrid Collection is made from unique TEMPUR material, providing pressure point relief while you sleep.

If your night cramps last longer than ten minutes, make your leg numb or swollen, or continuously disturb your sleep, consult a GP.

Do you suffer from night-time leg craps? Have you any advice for others? Let us know in the comments section.

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