Nocturnal leg cramps are a really unpleasant condition that can ruin your overnight rest. The term describes involuntary contractions of the leg muscles which occur as a result of various factors, with dehydration or different nutritional deficiencies being pinpointed as the main cause.
Nocturnal leg cramps can affect anyone regardless of age or gender. The pain varies from mild to severe, and they can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The pain can sometimes be so severe that you’ll be left with sore muscles in the morning. Although the exact cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still a subject of debate, these are the suspected culprits:
Proper hydration is highly important for our overall health. Drinking plenty of water is important for the proper function of the muscles as it helps them contract and relax. Not drinking plenty of water during the day can increase the risk of nocturnal leg cramps, and without enough water in your body, your muscles will be deprived of essential nutrients which can lead to serious nutritional imbalance.
Any kind of nutritional deficiency in the body is sure to cause numerous problems including nocturnal leg cramps. Potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium are vital minerals for our muscles – they can help you retain the normal balance of fluids in your body and also play a role in the contraction of your muscles.
Potassium works along chloride and sodium to create certain electrical impulses that can make your muscles work properly. Magnesium regulates the amount of adenosine triphosphate in the body which is the main energy source for our muscles. If you’re suffering from lack of any of these minerals, you will definitely experience nocturnal leg cramps.
Prolonged standing periods
Standing on your legs for a prolonged period increases the risk of leg cramps. Improper shoes and wearing high heels often can also increase the risk of the painful condition, and one study has discovered that the same factors can increase the risk of varicose veins as well. To prevent these problems, you need to take breaks when standing for a prolonged time in order to relax your legs.
Pregnant women have a higher risk of nocturnal leg cramps, especially in the second trimester. The cramps can vary in intensity and scientists believe they occur due to fatigue, reduced blood circulation in the legs or the increase pressure on certain nerves.
Hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid) is a condition which occurs due to low thyroid hormone levels. Lack of thyroid hormones in the body can cause nocturnal leg cramps as well as calf cramps, as these hormones affect the absorption and use of calcium in the body. Studies have shown that calcium deficiency is definitely related to muscle problems such as numbness or weakness.
Low levels of thyroid hormones can also cause low metabolism, which can make your muscles work improperly.
Diabetes is also related to nocturnal leg cramps, as it’s may be a sign of diabetic neuropathy, which occurs when the disease damages certain nerves. High blood sugar levels can also cause excess urination and dehydration, resulting in an increased risk of nocturnal leg cramps.
Drinking too much alcohol on a daily basis can dehydrate your body and damage the peripheral nerves, resulting in leg muscle cramps. Alcohol is a powerful diuretic and may also cause magnesium deficiency, which is also related to leg cramps.
Statins, birth control pills, antipsychotics and diuretics can lead to lower levels of electrolytes and water in the body, which will almost certainly result in nocturnal leg cramps. If you experience the cramps after taking a new drug, consult with your doctor as soon as possible.
Here are a few tips on how to treat and prevent nocturnal leg cramps:
- Drink a lot of water every day to prevent dehydration and leg cramps;
- Consuming electrolyte-rich sports drinks can also prevent the problem from occurring;
- Avoid drinking too much coffee and alcohol to prevent dehydration;
- Stretch your legs before going to bed – according to one study, this habit can significantly reduce the risk of nocturnal leg cramps;
- Make sure you’re sleeping on loose sheets and blankets and wear loose pajamas to prevent the distortion of your muscles overnight;
- To warm up your muscles and contract them, you can ride a stationary bike for about 10 minutes before going to bed;
- When you experience a cramp, try to move the leg or jiggle it – this will send the brain signals that our muscles need to relax;
- Add more magnesium in your diet by eating leafy green vegetables or nuts and seeds. Magnesium supplements are also a good choice;
- Proper potassium intake is also important – you can find the mineral in fish, pork, lamb, citrus fruits, dates, bananas, apricots and grapes;
- Finally, applying a hot compress on the cramped area can also help you relax the affected muscle.