Waking up with nighttime cramps is not only uncomfortable, the effects of sleep disruption can often cause you to feel more stressed, have less energy, and don’t feel at your best overall. Explore the most common causes of these cramps (sudden, painful muscle spasms in your legs) that occur while you sleep or during inactive periods at night) and how to prevent them in the future.

Are night cramps the same as restless leg syndrome?

No. Both conditions can disturb sleep, but they are not the same. Restless leg syndrome (or RLS) causes noticeable discomfort and restlessness that is difficult to control. The sensation can be temporarily relieved by moving the legs.

Nighttime leg cramps, on the other hand, cause painful sensations and muscle tension that cannot be relieved by movement.

Are cramps at night the same as a Charley horse?

Technically speaking, a Charley horse is a painful spasm of any muscle, although most people use the term to refer exclusively to the calf muscles. Charley’s horses calf / night leg cramps can disturb sleep and cause muscle aches for some time after the spasm is gone.

Top 9 Causes of Night Leg Cramps

1. Overexertion of the muscles

People with active lifestyles can overuse their leg muscles and increase the risk of muscle spasms and leg cramps.

If you stay active by running, participating in sports or practicing weights, respect your body’s limitations, which can vary from day to day. You should also constantly stretch after exercising and incorporate rest periods between workouts.

2. Take certain medications

Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can increase the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. These include birth control pills, diuretics, naproxen, asthma medications, and statins. Talk to your doctor about possible alternatives if you suffer from repeated night cramps.

3. Sedentary lifestyle

As a testament to the importance of maintaining a healthy balance, sitting for long periods of time can also increase the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. You should try to be moderately active in some way throughout the day, every day.

4. Effort in your posture

If your job requires you to stand on concrete floors for long periods of time or you sit uncomfortably at a desk, you may experience nighttime leg cramps . Talk to a human resources representative to help you find more ergonomic ways to work.

5. Hormonal imbalances

Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, have been linked to an increased risk of nocturnal leg cramps. Effectively managing your condition with long-term lifestyle changes and treatment plans from your healthcare provider can help reduce painful situations.

6. Pregnancy can cause cramps at night

Some pregnant women begin to experience painful night cramps in the legs. Taking magnesium, vitamin E, and / or B vitamin supplements under the supervision of a healthcare provider can help provide relief. For some women, applying hot or cold compresses is enough to further reduce minor leg cramps.

7. Circulation problems

Experiencing inadequate blood flow to a muscle can lead to leg cramps or spasms. Dehydration can also increase the risk of muscle cramps . If staying hydrated doesn’t seem to reduce nighttime leg cramps, you should consult your doctor about your circulation and overall cardiovascular health.

8. Being overweight

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of obesity is an increased risk of nocturnal leg cramps and muscle spasms in general. Developing healthy and sustainable habits, including smart food choices, consistent physical activity, and effective stress management, can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce health risks.

9. Compressed nerve

Frequent muscle spasms can be the result of a pinched nerve. Your doctor can use an MRI to identify if nerve compression is at the root of nighttime leg cramps.

10. Magnesium deficiency

An insufficient intake of magnesium is the most well-known cause of muscle and calf cramps. Magnesium’s role in balancing electrolyte metabolism and vital muscle function is important.

When the electrolytes of magnesium and calcium are present in the correct ratio to each other, there is the necessary balance between tension and relaxation in the muscles. If magnesium is lacking, this balance is lost and healthy muscle function is impaired. The permeability of the membranes for increases in sodium, potassium and calcium, and thereby the tendency to muscle cramps is facilitated.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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