Scientists Explain Why Your Legs Cramp At Night (And How to Fix It)

According to the Cleveland Clinic, nocturnal leg cramps are aches and uncomfortable sensations which affect the legs, typically during the night.  Although nocturnal leg cramps usually arise while sleeping, they may occur during periods of inactivity.

This uncomfortable occurrence targets the calf area, but it may spread to the thighs or feet as well.  The symptoms may last from a couple of seconds to several minutes.

NLC is more common in people over the age of 50 but may affect younger adults and children as well.  It seems to affect both sexes equally.

Differences between NLC and Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

Night leg cramps, also called nocturnal leg cramps, are painful, involuntary contractions or spasms of muscles in your legs, usually occurring when you’re in bed.’

On the other hand, RLS produces an annoying discomfort as opposed to the severe pain of NLC sufferers.  Another symptom of restless legs syndrome which differs from NLC is the desire to move the legs for relief.

Causes of NLC

Although the underlying cause(s) of NLC is not clear, medical experts have concluded that this condition affects individuals who follow these lifestyle habits:

  • Prolonged periods of sitting
  • ‘Slouching’ instead of ‘sitting’
  • Poor posture
  • Standing or working on concrete floors for extended amounts of time
  • Over-exertion of the muscles

Medical conditions which are suspected to trigger the onset of NLC include alcoholism, kidney failure, metabolic problems, electrolyte disparities, endocrine disorders, structural conditions like flat feet, Parkinson`s disease, and neuromuscular disorders, such as motor neuron disease, myopathy, and neuropathy.

Preventing NLC

Dehydration is probably the major reason why people experience leg crams at night, and this is totally avoidable. With this in consideration, make sure you drink lots of water during the day.

As for pre-bedtime habits, stretch the leg muscles a couple of minutes before going to bed.  Riding a bike for a few minutes may also help. Ultimately, untuck any bed covers which may restrict foot movement.

Tips on How To Relieve NLC

Sometimes, no matter what you do the leg cramps may still happen, although they might be rarer. In such cases, it is helpful to have a couple of tips for instant relief. Here are some of them:

  • Massage the muscles with the hands or an ice pack
  • Take a warm shower or bath
  • Lift the affected leg up and flex the foot upwards toward the head
  • Stand up, walk, and jiggle with the legs
  • Hold the affected leg in a stretched position until the cramping stops
  • Limit any activity which may have caused the cramps
  • Apply heat to the tense muscles