Have you ever experienced a nocturnal leg cramp? This painful problem can strike anyone regardless of age or gender and will definitely leave you sleepless. For the ones who don’t know, nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary leg muscle contractions that occur in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping.
Although science is still unable to find the exact culprit, there are several factors which may cause the problem. The cramps can last from seconds to minutes, and have varying degrees of pain. They usually affect middle-aged people, but can also affect teenagers as well. Here are the main factors which may be responsible for nocturnal leg cramps:
- Nutritional deficiencies
Any kind of nutritional deficiency in the body, especially magnesium, calcium, sodium or potassium deficiency can cause nocturnal leg cramps. These minerals control the work of your muscles and are absolutely essential for the fluid balance. Potassium controls the muscle contractions, while magnesium stabilizes the levels of adenosine triphosphate, the energy source for your muscles. If you’re deficient in these minerals, you will definitely experience nocturnal leg cramps or another muscle problem.
Not keeping yourself hydrated is a big mistake which can have serious consequences on your health and cause nocturnal leg cramps. The muscle tissue is 75% water, which means that it’s a vital element for proper muscle function. Without water, your muscle will be also robbed of essential nutrients, which can lead to electrolyte imbalance and nocturnal leg cramps.
- Standing for a longer period
Standing on your legs for a long time can definitely cause nocturnal leg cramps, which is why you must take breaks. According to a 2012 study, prolonged standing raises the risk of nocturnal leg cramps and varicose veins, as does sitting with crossed legs or putting them in an uncomfortable position when sleeping.
Nocturnal leg cramps are more common during pregnancy and can vary in intensity and duration. They may occur as a result of fatigue, increased pressure on certain nerves or reduced circulation in the legs.
If your thyroid is producing less that sufficient levels of thyroid hormones, you may experience nocturnal leg cramps. This condition can also reduce the levels of calcium in your body, which will further reduce the risk of the cramps. Low levels of thyroid hormones can cause slow metabolism as well, resulting in muscle inflammation and cramps and pain.
High blood glucose levels can lead to diabetic retinopathy, a condition which can damage your nerves and cause sharp pain in the leg muscles as well as numbness and tingling. High blood sugar levels will also dehydrate your body and make you urinate more, resulting in nocturnal leg cramps.
- Alcohol abuse
Drinking too much alcohol will dehydrate your body and cause alcohol neuropathy, a condition linked to muscle cramps and pain. Alcohol is a diuretic that can dehydrate your muscles and raise the amount of lactic acid in the body, resulting in muscle cramps and pain.
Some medications such as statins or diuretics can cause loss of water in the body and be the culprit for nocturnal leg cramps. Birth control pills and steroids can also cause the condition, so visit your doctor if you’re experiencing the cramps when on a new medication.
How to prevent nocturnal leg cramps
- Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids;
- Consume sport drinks rich in electrolytes that can prevent the cramps;
- Avoid drinking too much coffee, alcohol or sodas;
- To relax your muscles before going to bed, stretch them or ride a stationary bike for 10 minutes;
- If you’re experiencing a cramp, massage the sore spot for 10 minutes or apply a hot compress;
- To prevent nocturnal leg cramps, you need to add more potassium and magnesium in your diet. Magnesium can be found in nuts and seeds, while potassium is present in lamb, pork, oranges, dates, bananas, broccoli, fish, cabbage and apricots;
- Make sure to keep your sheets and blankets loose as tight bed sheets may impair the circulation in your legs and cause the problem;
- Walk or jiggle the affected leg when suffering a cramp to send signals to your brain that the muscles need to relax.