Leg Cramps at Night? Here’s How to Get Better Sleep

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Jun 16 2023.

Couple sleeping.

Leg Cramps at Night? Here’s How to Get Better Sleep

Charley horses. Cricks. Knots. Whatever you call them –– leg cramps aren’t fun, especially at night. Almost everyone gets muscle cramps, but it can happen nightly for people 65 and older, causing poor sleep and mobility issues.

Below, we explore the common causes of night leg cramps and provide some tips, tricks, and product recommendations for relief. 

What Are Leg Cramps?

Leg cramps are sudden, sharp pains in your thighs, glutes, or calves. They occur randomly, causing your muscles to seize up, spasm, and tighten. Many people associate leg cramps with running and exercise, but we can also experience leg cramps as we get older. 

“As we age, our muscles and nerves tend to lose some of their function, making us more susceptible to leg cramps,” Lalitha McSorley, a physiotherapist and the owner of Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary in Calgary, Ontario, said. “In addition, older adults are more likely to have medical conditions or take medications that can contribute to leg cramps.”

What Causes Leg Cramps at Night?

Muscle cramps at night happen for various reasons. McSorley says common causes include the following:

  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease (PAD)

  • Medication side effects

  • Nerve damage or compression

  • Prolonged sitting or standing

  • Overexertion of the muscles

  • Dehydration

Sometimes, leg cramps happen because of an electrolyte imbalance, such as low levels of potassium, calcium, or magnesium levels.

Are Leg Cramps at Night Normal? 

Muscle cramps in your legs at night are common and usually not a cause for concern. Often, they go away with rest and activity changes.

“If you experience frequent or severe leg cramps and they interfere with your daily activities or sleep, you should see your doctor,” McSorley said. “Additionally, if your leg cramps are accompanied by swelling, redness, or warmth in the affected area, seek medical attention right away.”

Can Nightly Leg Cramps Be Prevented?

If you or your loved one have nighttime leg cramps, there are several things you can do to reduce symptoms or prevent them altogether. McSorley recommends:

1) Staying Hydrated

Dehydration affects your circulation. You are more likely to get muscle cramps if your blood flow to your muscles and organs isn’t what it should be.

2) Eating a Balanced Diet

Certain nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium help facilitate smooth muscle motion. You’ll likely have leg cramps and mobility issues if your diet doesn't include certain foods.

3) Staying Active

Biking, walking, and swimming can improve blood flow throughout your body. Studies show that even light exercise can help with circulation to your leg muscles and calf muscles. 

4) Wearing Appropriate Shoes

Sometimes, foot and leg cramps are caused by shoes. Comfortable and supportive footwear can make a big difference. McSorley recommends looking for shoes that have enough room for your toes and provide arch support.

5) Taking a Warm Bath or Shower Before Bed

Exposure to warm water increases your blood flow and soothes tight muscles. If you aren’t in a rush, consider filling the bathtub with Epsom salts. Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfite, which is absorbed through the skin. It helps relax your muscles, relieving pain and inflammation. 

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6) Changing Your Medication(s)

Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications are known to cause leg cramps. If your symptoms continue, even after making healthy lifestyle changes, talk with your doctor about reevaluating your medications.

7) Take Over-the-Counter Products for Leg Cramps 

Healthy lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to stop nocturnal leg cramps. If your aches and pains keep you from getting a restful night’s sleep, there are all-natural products that may help.

Hyland’s products are made with all-natural, homeopathic formulas. They present no side effects and won’t conflict with any other medicines you take. As always, consult with your doctor about taking any supplement or medication.

Hear it from a caregiver

“[I] can’t sleep without them on my nightstand!”

- Janet K.

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Can Leg Cramps at Night Indicate an Underlying Health Problem?

It depends. “Sometimes, night leg cramps are a symptom of underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid problems, or nerve damage,” McSorley said. “If your cramps are frequent, severe, or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.”

2) What If I Wake Up At Night with Leg Cramps?

There are several things you can do if you wake up with leg cramps in the middle of the night. McSorley recommends:

  • Applying a heating pad or ice pack to the affected area

  • Massaging your affected muscles

  • Taking an over-the-counter medication, such as Hyland’s Leg Cramps, PM

  • Gently stretching your legs and thighs

It may take some experimentation to see which approach provides the most relief. 

3) What Are The Signs that Night Leg Cramps Are Coming?

Leg cramps at night typically occur suddenly and without warning. That said, if your cramps are caused by a specific medication or type of activity, your doctor can make recommendations to help prevent flare-ups. 

Takeaways

Leg cramps at night are a common complaint, but they don’t have to keep you up. A simple bedtime routine and healthy lifestyle changes can improve your circulation and quality of life. 

If your leg cramps continue or worsen, even after making changes, don’t wait to contact your doctor. Various health problems can cause leg cramps at night, but treatment options abound.

Have More Questions?

If you have questions about leg cramp relief products, everything from Epsom salt to all-natural solutions, our Caregiving Specialists are available to help! Call us at (800) 696-CARE or email  support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.