Nighttime Leg Cramps: Causes and Solutions
Experiencing pain when you are trying to sleep is not pleasant, to say the least. Nighttime leg cramps are intensely painful involuntary contractions or spasms in your lower leg muscles that don’t let up and may be hard to touch. They interfere with your sleep, energy levels, and overall health and well-being.
It’s time to end these painful nighttime leg cramps and help you improve your health. Discover some natural methods to support your recovery in this article.
In this article, you will learn what nighttime leg cramps are and what are the main causes. You will also learn some natural solutions that may help you prevent, reduce, and eliminate nighttime leg cramps.
What are Nighttime Leg Cramps
Nighttime leg cramps are also called nocturnal leg cramps and may be referred to as charley horses or muscle spasms. They are characterized by involuntary contractions or spasms in your leg muscles that are painful and often severe. They tend to occur at night when you are in bed. Most commonly, they are located in your calf muscles, however, you may also experience nighttime leg cramps in your thighs or feet as.
You should not confuse nighttime leg cramps with restless leg syndrome. They are not the same thing. Restless leg syndrome is more of a discomfort with a crawling sensation, but it is rarely painful or severe. The discomfort of restless leg syndrome is relieved when the movement stops and stretching usually helps the issue, while nighttime leg cramps are more severe and more difficult to relieve.
Main Causes of Nighttime Leg Cramps
Nighttime leg cramps are more common than you may think. They affect up to 60 percent of adults and 7 percent of children and teens. The risk of nighttime leg cramps tends to increase with age and affects more women than men. They also affect 40 percent of pregnant women. While leg cramps are common, only about 20 percent of people with nighttime leg cramps seek medical attention (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
To find relief from nighttime leg cramps, first, you need to understand some of the potential main causes of the cramps. Let’s get into it.
It may not be surprising to you that a muscle injury may result in nighttime leg cramps. While an injury from an accident or a sports injury may lead to an issue that causes nighttime leg cramps, you may also be dealing with a muscle injury without one specific event being the cause.
Over-exertion of your muscles, sitting improperly, sitting for long periods of time without getting up, or standing or working on concrete floors may lead to a chronic muscle injury or inflammation that may come with nighttime leg cramps. It is important that you consider your posture and daily activities to see if you may be dealing with a muscle injury.
Dehydration may occur for a number of reasons. One of the most common causes of dehydration is simply not drinking enough water throughout the day. However, exercising, gardening, or doing physical labor, especially in hot weather, having diarrhea or vomiting, or being sick can also dehydrate your body.
Dehydration depletes your body from important fluids, salts, and minerals, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Dehydration may lead to muscle pain, muscle spasms, and nighttime leg cramps.
When you are dehydrated, your body has to prioritize keeping enough fluids for your brain and other vital organs instead of your muscles. This means that fluid is being drawn away from your muscles.
There are also many nerves that are connected to your muscles. They cannot function properly without enough water and sodium, which may lead to involuntary contractions and nighttime muscle cramps. If you are sweating at night, you may continue to lose fluids and dehydrate your body further leading to more nighttime leg cramps overnight (7, 8, 9).
Electrolyte Imbalance and Leg Cramps
An electrolyte imbalance or mineral depletion is one of the common causes of nighttime leg cramps and muscle cramps in general. Specifically, too little potassium, calcium, or magnesium in your daily diet may interrupt the proper electrical signals being sent to your muscles and result in nighttime leg cramps.
Diuretics, which may be prescribed for high blood pressure or other issues, may also lead to the depletion of these minerals causing an electrolyte imbalance and consequent nighttime leg cramps (7).
Edema & Swelling
Edema is the medical term used for swelling. When your small blood vessels leak fluids into tissues in the area, it may result in edema. Your leg may swell as a result of an injury, inflammation, pregnancy, medications, or infections. You may also experience lymphedema, or lymphatic obstruction as a result of lymphatic congestion.
Your lymphatic system circulates a fluid called lymph. It is a vital part of your immune system and essential for your immune function. Lymphedema is often caused by the damage or removal of the lymph nodes during cancer treatment.
This may lead to lymphatic blockage preventing the lymph to drain causing swelling. Other issues of the lymphatic system may also lead to lymphatic congestion and consequent swelling, cramps, pain, edema, and swelling may all lead to restless leg syndrome (10, 11).
Chemical & Heavy Metal Toxicity
Toxins are all around us. Air pollution, smoking, chemicals in our tap water, pesticides in our non-organic and processed foods, chemicals in our conventional body, beauty, and cleaning products, chemicals in plastic, and heavy metals in dental fillings may all lead to inflammation and health issues.
Chemical and heavy metal toxicity, especially higher levels of urinary pesticides, heavy metals, phthalates, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, have been associated with nighttime leg cramps while sleeping (12).
Solutions For Nighttime Leg Cramps
About three-fifths of the population is dealing with nighttime leg cramps. Hence you are not alone. This obviously impacts the quality of sleep you are getting at night and can be a major nuisance.
With some natural strategies, you can reduce, prevent, and eliminate nighttime leg cramps and return to enjoying a goodnight sleep. Here is what you want to consider.
As you’ve learned, dehydration may cause your muscles to cramp up and spasm at nighttime. To prevent dehydration, it is important that you drink plenty of water throughout the day. I recommend at least 8 to 10 glasses (8 oz) of water a day.
If you are exercising, doing physical labor, sweating, or outside in the hot sun a lot, sick, or feeling dehydrated, I recommend more. Listen to your body. Remember, once you feel thirsty, chances are, you are already dehydrated, so it’s crucial that you drink on a regular basis instead of chugging down a big glass once you feel very thirsty.
In addition to water, add hydrating vegetables and fruits, green juices, smoothies, and herbal tea to your day. Remove any dehydrating sodas, energy drinks, sugary drinks, and limit coffee. Make sure to hydrate in the evening to avoid nighttime dehydration and leg cramps.
Trace Mineral-Rich Diet
An unhealthy diet low in nutrients, dehydration, medications, and illness may deplete your body from important minerals that are critical to your well-being. Missing these minerals may lead to electrolyte imbalance and nighttime leg cramps. To ensure balanced electrolyte and mineral levels, eat a nutrient-rich diet rich in trace minerals.
Remove any refined sugar, refined oils, and processed and junk foods that are low in nutrients and may lead to mineral depletion. Focus on foods that are rich in minerals. Pay special attention to potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Avocados, bananas, oranges, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, eggplant, zucchini, leafy greens, peas, cucumbers, apricots, prunes, and grapefruit juice are fantastic sources of potassium.
Leafy greens, seafood, and grass-fed dairy are great sources of calcium. Green leafy veggies, broccoli, avocados, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and cacao are excellent sources of magnesium. Additionally, eat lots of greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pasture-raised meat, free-range poultry and eggs, and wild-caught fish (13, 14, 15).
Daily Movement & Stretching
Muscle injuries, sitting too much, and lack of movement may lead to nighttime leg cramps. Hence, it is critical that you stay active throughout the day and remain physically fit in general in order to develop more flexibility and strength (16).
I recommend that you exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at least five times a week. Mix it up with both cardiovascular and resistance or strength training exercises. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is fantastic for both, however, you may try what works for you.
Swimming, biking, running, walking, hiking, dancing, and aerobics classes are great for cardio, while weight lifting CrossFit, TRX, and pilates are good for strength. Yoga and pilates are great low-impact choices. Make sure to warm-up and cool-down before and after your workouts to prevent muscle fatigue and injuries.
Additionally, avoid sitting or standing too much or for too long. Get up and move a bit throughout the day. Go for a walk at lunchtime or before and after work. Stretch your legs regularly. Try some self-massage. You may also visit a physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist for further guidance and bodywork to relieve muscle tension and nighttime leg cramps. Research has shown that massage and bodywork can relieve muscle pain and aid relaxation (17).
Use Calcium and Magnesium at Night
A mineral-rich, nutrient-dense diet is not always enough. If your body is depleted from key minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, it may lead to a serious imbalance within your body leading to nighttime leg cramps. This is why I recommend CalMag Support for a boost of calcium and magnesium at night.
This supplement is a delicious, pear-flavored powdered supplement that provides high-quality, patented Albion® minerals in a state-of-the-art calcium/magnesium formulation. This supplement is incredibly easy to take. Its special forms of the minerals promote optimal absorption and utilization while being gentle on the gastrointestinal tract.
It helps muscle function and healthy nerve conduction which may benefit nighttime leg cramps. In addition to providing relief from nighttime leg cramps, it boosts neurological function, energy production, mood, and bone health. Dissolve one scoop in 6 oz of cool, pure water. Take it once a day at night.
This is the first supplement I use to help people with leg cramps and if they don’t alleviate after a week of using this then I consider other options that I discuss further in this article.
Consider More Potassium For Leg Cramps
In addition to achieving optimal magnesium and calcium levels, it’s important that you have enough potassium as well. To achieve optimal potassium levels and relieve nighttime leg cramps, I recommend Mg-K Citrate.
This supplement has a necessary amount of potassium and magnesium. It provides two intracellular cations that are vital to maintaining healthy muscle contractility, nerve conduction, and blood pressure levels already within the normal range.
These minerals help maintain healthy electrolyte and acid-base balance and support kidney health and function. It may help with nighttime leg cramps, chronic pain, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, cognition, and mood. Take one capsule one to two times daily with meals.
Consider Kidney & Lymphatic Support
Kidney and lymphatic congestion is one of the potential causes of nighttime leg cramps. You may want to consider supporting the health of your kidneys and lymphatic system. Some helpful strategies here include dry brushing, regular movement and exercise and bouncing on a rebounder. There are also key herbs that help to enhance the health of the kidneys and lymphatic system.
I recommend Plant Based Kidney Health which is an enhanced blend of potent, organic herbs, that contains powerful antioxidants and nutrients that cleanse the kidneys and encourage normal kidney function and support the lymphatic system and drainage pathways.
This product contains cranberry, horsetail, hydrangea, uva-ursi, marshmallow root, juniper berry, gingko biloba and it is powered by bioactive carbons in the shilajit complex. This combination of nutrients supports drainage and immune function in the kidneys and liver. Take 1 ml in the morning and again in the evening, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
Get Tested for Environmental Toxicity & Heavy Metals
Environmental toxicity and heavy metals may lead to health issues, including nighttime leg cramps. To check for environmental toxicity and heavy metals, I recommend Hair Mineral Analysis and the Enviro Tox Test.
Hair Mineral Analysis provides an overview of your mineral levels. Hair element analysis provides important information that may help with the early diagnosis of physiological disorders associated with aberrations in essential and toxic element metabolism. Scalp hair is easy to sample, and because it grows an average of one to two cm per month, it contains a “temporal record” of element metabolism and exposure to toxic elements.
Enviro Tox Test will test for a long list of environmental pollutants, mitochondrial disorders, and metabolites of pollutants to provide a full picture. It tests for 172 different toxic chemicals including organophosphate pesticides, phthalates, benzene, xylene, vinyl chloride, pyrethroid insecticides, acrylamide, perchlorate, diphenyl phosphate, ethylene oxide, acrylonitrile, and more.
Consider Heavy Metal & Chemical Detoxification Support
If your test results show heavy metals or chemical toxicity in your body or if you’ve been exposed to chemicals or heavy metals in your diet or environment (that’s essentially all of us!), you may want to consider heavy metal and chemical detoxification support. I recommend Heavy Metal and Chemical Cleanse and BioActive Carbon Minerals.
Heavy Metal and Chemical Cleanse is a blend of powerful herbs that help rejuvenate vitality, energy, mental clarity, and overall health by encouraging detoxification of harmful chemicals and toxic metals. Take 20 drops twice daily on an empty stomach. Hold drops in your mouth for 30 seconds then swallow.
BioActive Carbon Minerals is made with naturally occurring, highly refined and naturally chelated extracts of Fulvic Acid for detoxification support. Take up to 10 drops three times daily or for advanced support, up to 15 drops.
Final Thoughts on Leg Cramps
Nighttime leg cramps are a common problem characterized by painful involuntary contractions or spasms in your lower leg muscles that don’t let up and are hard to touch. They may interrupt your sleep, energy levels, and overall health and well-being.
You don’t have to deal with nighttime leg cramps anymore. Follow my natural solutions and tips to reduce, prevent, and eliminate nighttime leg cramps and regain your health and well-being.