How can I Prevent Nocturnal Leg Cramps?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2019
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Sudden contractions in the legs at night, or nocturnal leg cramps, may seem minor, but they are often painful. The cramping occurs most often in the calf muscles, but it may extend to the thighs or feet, too. Fortunately, you can typically prevent this issue with leg stretches, especially when you feel a cramp coming on, as flexing the foot quickly can stop it. You can also use heat or ice to prevent getting nocturnal leg cramps, such as a hot bath or a cold compress. Staying hydrated and having sufficient electrolytes in your body may also stop you from getting nighttime leg cramps.

Ensuring that your calves are stretched out before you to go bed can help prevent cramping, which is also often called a "charley horse." Doing leg stretches or a short workout before bed can result in muscles that are relaxed enough to avoid contracting suddenly as you sleep. For example, you should consider riding an exercise bike for a few minutes each night, or even a few lunges, calf raises, or similar moves. Regular walking may also help relax the muscles, though you should make sure that you have comfortable, supportive shoes if you plan to work out regularly. Note that one stretch in particular is helpful in ending the charley horse just as it begins, as flexing the feet toward your face at the very beginning of a cramp can stop it.


Another practice to add to the bedtime routine is a hot bath or shower, as heat is well-known for relaxing the muscles. You can also opt to use a warm compress, such as a towel dipped in hot water, or a gel pack that is meant to be heated up in the microwave. Additionally, consider adding regular leg massages to this nighttime routine to prevent nocturnal leg cramps, making sure that your hands are warm before rubbing your skin for maximum efficiency. This is because heat can encourage blood flow to the area, making nocturnal leg cramps less likely. Alternating hot and cold compresses is also a popular way to relieve cramps, so consider following the warm compress and massage by rubbing ice on the legs.

Sometimes nocturnal leg cramps are a result of nutrient deficiency, particularly electrolytes, including potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Consider adding supplements with these minerals to your diet if you tend to get frequent leg muscle cramps. Serious athletes and pregnant women are usually most prone to nocturnal leg cramps, as their bodies have a hard time holding onto the proper amount of electrolytes, so those who fit into this category should ask their doctor for supplement recommendations. Finally, drinking enough water is a good way to prevent leg cramps at night, as dehydration can cause the muscles to contract frequently and suddenly.


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Post 2

I seem to have fewer leg cramps at night if I take an NSAID pain reliever just before bedtime. I also eat at least one banana a day, mostly for the potassium and magnesium. If I feel calf cramps coming on, I will also pinch the area between my nose and upper lip. I don't know why it works, but it does seem to help.

I wish I knew a way to stop the nocturnal leg cramping before it gets worse, but I don't. I just grit my teeth and try to work through the pain until the leg stops spasming. I had one bad experience where my leg did not stop cramping for at least five minutes. My wife finally grabbed my foot and ankle and pressed them upwards. It was the only thing that stopped my calf muscles from spasming.

Post 1

I really hate nocturnal leg cramping, because the spasms are so painful and it's hard to get comfortable enough for sleep afterwards. I have found that many of my leg cramps at night are triggered by a sudden change in temperature. If my leg slips out of the blanket and the air in the room is cold, it has a tendency to cramp up. I try to make sure I have enough blanket coverage on my legs to keep it from happening.

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