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What Are Night Cramps?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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Night cramps almost always occur when the muscles of the leg contract involuntarily. In most cases, the night cramps come on suddenly and they can be quite painful. Most commonly, the calf muscles are the muscles that cramp, but some people may experience night cramps in their thighs or feet as well.

In most cases, night cramps happen for no apparent reason. Common, unalarming causes for the cramps include fatigued muscles, flat feet, pregnancy, old age, dehydration, and even tucking the covers at the end of the bed in too tight. In other cases, the reasons behind the cramps may be more serious. For example, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hypothyroidism, peripheral artery disease, and other potentially life-threatening ailments may be to blame.

Some research studies have indicated that leg cramps are a result of a deficiency of potassium in the body. One of the easiest ways to boost potassium levels and prevent or reduce night leg cramps is by eating foods that are high in potassium. These foods include bananas, beans, grapes, oranges, pork, lamb, corn, tuna, and tomatoes. A multivitamin or supplement may help as well.

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In some cases, a person may choose to consult with a medical provider. Specifically, if a person experiences persistent and severe cramping, a doctor should been seen immediately. In addition, if a person suspects she has been exposed to a harmful chemical or toxin, such as lead, she should seek medical attention quickly. Some people may not need immediate medical attention, but they may choose to set up an appointment with a medical provider just to be sure. An appointment may be necessary if the night cramps affect the person’s performance during the day or if her leg muscles begin to weaken.

In some cases, night cramps in the legs can be prevented. For example, drinking a glass of water before bed may prevent dehydration, one cause of the cramps. In addition, people with flat feet may select shoes that have adequate arch support. Some people notice that stretching or mild exercise before bed lessens the likelihood of cramping during the night hours. Simply untucking the sheets at the end of the bed may prevent cramps as well.

When night cramps do occur, there are a few things that may help lessen the duration of the cramps and ease the pain associated with them. For example, massaging the cramped muscle may help relax the muscle and ease the pain. Walking may also help stretch the muscle, easing the duration and pain of the cramps.

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Discuss this Article

burcinc
Post 3

@feruze-- Yep, that's right. I had that happen to me before. Wearing really high heels for long hours can cause nighttime feet and leg cramps. Try to wear shorter heels, or carry heels to work and only wear them there and switch to flats on your way to and from work.

When you get cramps, soak your feet in hot water with some Epsom salt and move your toes. That usually helps a lot.

I get night cramps too, but not at my feet or legs, but my stomach. I get them whenever I'm ovulating or getting ready to have my period. I don't know why it happens at night but it's pretty annoying because it disturbs sleep. Has anyone else experienced this?

bear78
Post 2

@burcidi-- I didn't know potassium deficiency could do this until I found this article! Maybe I should get tested too.

I have occasional foot cramps at night but I'm pretty sure mine are because of my shoes. I only get the cramps when I wear high heels for the entire day.

The weird part is that my feet don't cramp while I'm in heels but when I get home and take my shoes off, they start to cramp and even cramp when I'm sleeping.

I've wore flats the past several days and I only had cramping twice so I think I found the culprit.

burcidi
Post 1

I was getting really bad leg cramps at night last month. It would come on really suddenly and run through my legs. I woke up from the pain and would literally hold my mouth not to wake up my roommate. Thankfully, it didn't last too long, 15-30 seconds. But it happened at least once every night.

I was drinking more water, doing stretches before I went to bed but it didn't help. I finally went to my family doctor and she asked for some basic blood work to see if everything was well. It turned out that I had a potassium deficiency!

I took potassium supplements for several weeks and had my levels checked again. They went back to normal range. I'm not taking the supplements any more but I'm eating way more potassium-rich foods. I don't want to have those night cramps ever again!

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