Nocturnal leg cramps are one of the most painful problem you can experience – they occur in the middle of the night and the sharp pain can ruin your sleep, leaving you without energy and with sore leg muscles in the morning. Leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that usually occur overnight. They can also strike at the soles or other muscles.


The cramps may last from a few seconds to a few minutes, and the intense pain is often difficult to bear. Nocturnal leg cramps affect everyone regardless of age or gender, although they’re more common in middle aged people. Although science is still unsure of the main cause, there are numerous factors that contribute towards it.


Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of nocturnal leg cramps. Proper hydration means proper body and mind function, including the contraction of muscles. If you’re not keeping properly hydrated during the day, you will experience cramps overnight. Without sufficient amounts of water, your muscles will be robbed of essential nutrients they need to work normally.

Nutritional deficiencies

Potassium, magnesium, calcium or sodium deficiency can definitely cause the dreaded leg cramps. All these nutrients play different vital roles in your muscles and help them contract – if the muscles are robbed of them, they will fail to work properly. Potassium works with sodium and chloride and generates electrical impulses in the nerves and muscles, while calcium generates proper muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Magnesium stabilizes the levels of adenosine triphosphate, so any of these mineral deficiencies will result in an increased risk of muscle cramps and other problems.

Standing for too long

Standing for prolonged periods or wearing improper footwear can overburden your muscles and increase the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. According to one study, the same factor raises the risk of varicose veins, so make sure to cut the time spent on your feet. Sitting with crossed legs or sitting for too long can also cause the condition.


Cramps are pretty common during pregnancy, especially from the second trimester onward. They can range from mild to pretty painful and occur as a result of the increased pressure of the uterus on some nerves and reduced blood circulation in the legs.


Low levels of thyroid hormones in the body are definitely a cause for concern and may lead to a number of health problems including nocturnal leg cramps. Hypothyroidism reduces the levels of calcium in the body, resulting in muscle pain, weakness and numbness as well. Low thyroid hormone levels can also cause fatigue and low metabolism, which can result in inflammation and muscle cramps.


Diabetes patients often experience nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) in the legs which results in sharp pain and numbness. The high blood sugar levels can dehydrate your body and lead to muscle cramps – if you experience this symptom and you’re a diabetic, you should consult with your doctor immediately.

Alcohol abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption may damage your peripheral nerves and cause a condition known as alcohol neuropathy which can cause nocturnal leg cramps. Alcohol is a powerful diuretic that can dehydrate your body and result in the condition.


Statins and diuretics will lead to loss of water and dehydration in the body, while also robbing it of essential nutrients such as electrolytes which are required for proper muscle function. Birth control pills, antipsychotics and steroids can also cause cramps, so you need to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing them while on these drugs.

A few tips that will help you prevent nocturnal leg cramps

In order to prevent the cramps from occurring, you need to stay hydrated at all times. Consuming sport drinks with electrolytes can also prevent the problem. Drinking too much coffee, alcohol or sodas can dehydrate your body and increase the risk of cramps. If a cramp woke you up in the middle of the night, massage the sore spot for 10-15 minutes.

To prevent the cramps, you should stretch your muscle before you go to bed, or ride a stationary bike for 10 minutes. If you’re experiencing a cramp, walking or jiggling the cramping leg sends a signal to your brain that the muscle needs to relax and will make you feel better. Add magnesium in your diet by eating nuts and seeds more often as the mineral is vital for proper muscle work. Potassium can help as well, and can be found in apricots, grapes, broccoli, lamb and pork, oranges, grapefruit and cabbage. Finally, a hot compress over the cramping muscle has helped many people relieve the cramp.

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