Reasons Why Your Legs Cramp Up at Night and How to Fix It
Everyone suffers from cramps once in a while and we all know how annoying they can be. They can even occur at night and ruin your peaceful sleep. Nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that occur suddenly in the middle of the night or periods of rest. But, these contractions can also occur in the soles of the feet or other muscles. They can last from a few seconds to several minutes. And while the pain can disappear, muscle soreness may remain for some time.
While everyone can get cramps, they occur more often in middle-aged people or older. They can also occur more often in teenagers and individuals who exercise at night.
The main cause is still unknown, but here are some factors that can contribute to this painful problem.
We all know that hydration is crucial for proper body function. Since water comprises 75% of muscle tissue and helps them contract and relax, lack of it can cause this problem.
Proper hydration is essential for a healthy body and mind. It also has an impact on the performance of the muscles.
Without water, muscles will be deprived of essential nutrients, which can cause imbalances of electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium).
- Nutritional Deficiency
Any type of imbalance of mineral electrolytes – potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium in our body can contribute to nocturnal and exercise-related cramps.
Sodium is crucial for maintaining a normal body-fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve impulse generation.
Potassium goes hand in hand with sodium and chloride to generate electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves.
Calcium is important in the generation of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
Magnesium aids in stabilizing ATP – adenosine triphosphate, which is the energy source for muscle contractions. Plus, it serves as an electrolyte in body fluids.
Deficiency in any of these minerals can lead to cramps and other muscle-related issues. In addition, certain B vitamin can impact muscle function, especially vitamin B12.
- Overexertion or Prolonged Standing
Prolonged standing and standing while wearing poorly fitting shoes or high heels can lead to muscle fatigue or overexertion, which in turn causes leg cramps at night.
A 2012 study has shown that prolonged standing at work can increase your risk of varicose veins and nocturnal leg cramps. That’s why you should take breaks or reduce prolonged standing at work.
Nocturnal leg cramps can be also caused by improper sitting or putting the legs in awkward and uncomfortable positions when sleeping.
Pregnanty women are more prone to leg cramping at night. Cramps occur in the second trimester and lasts through the third trimester.
These cramps can be from mild to extremely painful. They can occur due to fatigue, an increasing pressure of the uterus on certain nerves, or reduced circulation in the legs from the pressure of the baby on blood vessels.
Low levels of thyroid hormones can also lead to muscle weakness and calf cramps at night. This is because thyroid hormones affect calcium absorption and utilization. Calcium deficiency is related to muscle weakness, pain, cramps, and numbness.
Low level of thyroid hormones can also increase inflammation that can contribute to the muscle cramping and pain.
- Uncontrolled Diabetes
Leg cramps are also a symptom of diabetic neuropathy, a form of nerve damage. Diabetes patients may experience sharp pain in the leg muscle, numbness and tingling.
Increased blood sugar causes subsequent dehydration and excessive urination, which in turn leads to night leg cramps. If your leg cramps are linked to diabetes, see your doctor immediately!
- Alcohol Abuse
Excessive alcohol consumption damages peripheral nerves and cause alcohol neuropathy which is usually characterized by leg pain and muscle cramps. And since alcohol has a diuretic effect, it leads to dehydration. Moreover, it can cause a magnesium deficiency.
Furthermore, excess alcohol can increase the content of lactic acid in the body. Excessive lactic acid can cause pain and cramps.
- Certain Medications
There are certain medications that also contribute to this problem, like cholesterol-lowering agents (statins) and diuretics. They cause loss of water and electrolytes from the body
Other medications that can cause leg cramps are antipsychotics, birth control pills and steroids. If you experience cramps suddenly after you start taking a new medication, consult your doctor immediately
Tips to fix and prevent leg cramping at night:
- Make sure you drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids in order to prevent dehydration.
- Sport drinks with electrolytes consumption can also prevent the problem.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee and soda beverages.
- Massage the muscle with your hands for 10-15 minutes if you experience a cramp.
- Ake sure you always stretch your leg muscles before going to sleep. This will ease muscle tension and reduce the risk of having a cramp while sleeping. A 2012 study has shown that stretching before going to bed can reduce the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps in adults.
- Ride a stationary bicycle for 10 minutes before going to bed (if you own one).
- Keep bed sheets and blankets loose around your feet so that your toes are not distorted.
- Add more magnesium to your diet. Nuts and seeds have a rich content of magnesium. However, pregnant women are not recommended to take magnesium supplements and should consult a doctor.
- Walking or jiggling the leg after a cramp sends a signal to the brain that our muscle needs to contract and relax. This can speed up the recovery.
- Include enough potassium in your diet as well. Dates, bananas, grapes, broccoli, fish, pork, lamb, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, and apricots are excellent sources of potassium.
- Apply a hot compress to the cramped muscle to relax and loosen it up.
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