Here’s Why You Have Leg Cramps at Night (& How to Stop Them)

What’s worse than losing sleep at night? Experiencing an excruciating leg cramp in the middle of the night.

Not only does a leg cramp keep you tossing and turning the whole night, but it also triggers muscle soreness, which can last for hours or even days.

According to research, you’re more likely to experience nocturnal or night leg cramps as you grow older. In fact, 60 percent of adults have experienced leg cramps at night.

person with nocturnal leg cramps grabbing her feet at night

What Causes Leg Cramps at Night?

For something that occurs so frequently, you would think that researchers know what causes it, but no one knows the root cause of leg cramps. However, researchers suspect the factors below may trigger leg cramps at night.

1. Electrolyte Imbalance

Electrolytes are minerals that help your body function optimally. They include potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium. Low levels of any of these electrolytes can trigger leg cramps, but studies have conflicting conclusions on this theory.

Either way, you need to keep your electrolytes balanced by consuming bananas, spinach, sweet potatoes, nuts and yogurt.

2. Not Drinking Enough Water

Research shows that there’s a link between dehydration and leg cramps at night. More people experience leg cramps during summer than winter. This means heat and fluid levels in the body are contributing factors.

3. Not Stretching Leg Muscles

Tightness in lower body muscles can have scary side effects. It can cause back pain, knee pain and leg cramps.

Researchers suspect that muscles are more likely to cramp when they shorten, so stretch all your leg muscles regularly, especially the calf muscles.

4. Standing All Day

We can agree that sitting all day is harmful but standing all day isn’t safe either. You need to find the right balance.

This study concluded that people who stand all day are more likely to experience nocturnal leg cramps compared to sitters.

5. Exercising Too Much

Are you trying to take your fitness to the next level? Beware that overdoing your cardio or strength training can trigger leg cramps.

If you’re starting a new routine, start slowly, and increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as you get fitter.

6. Certain Medications

According to research, drugs that have diuretic effects (like some blood pressure meds) can increase the risk of leg cramps at night. Talk to your doctor if you suspect the medications you’re taking are triggering leg cramps.

7. Bad Sleeping Position

Some sleeping positions can shorten your calf muscles, increasing chances of leg cramps. Sleeping in a position that allows you to keep your toes neutral may prevent leg cramps. For instance, when you lie face-down, your toes tend to face away, shortening your calf muscles.

jar of pickles on a wooden table

How to Treat Nocturnal Leg Cramps

Sadly, leg cramps may occur even when you take all the precautionary measures I’ve suggested above. If that happens, here’s what you should do.

Stretch the affected muscle.

This may be the last thing you want to do when you’re experiencing pain, but it’ll help. If you’re experiencing a Charley horse or calf muscle cramp, straighten your leg and gently bend your toes towards your face.

Drink pickle juice.

Have you ever wondered why pickle juice is popular among athletes? Well, it helps balance electrolytes. This study found that drinking pickle juice 35 seconds after experiencing leg cramps reduced them faster than drinking water.

Massage the spot with an essential oil.

Mix an essential oil with a carrier, like coconut oil, and apply it on the affected area. Here are essential oils that ease muscle cramps.

Use heat.

Soak a towel in hot water and then place it on the affected muscle.

Do you ever wake up with painful leg cramps? What has helped you get some relief? Share your experience in the comments section below!

57 comments

Coo R
Coo R2 days ago

I notice it if I've not stretched after fitness classes or workouts

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Janis K
Janis K2 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer2 days ago

I have suffered leg cramps since childhood - I'm now 85. I have NO suggestions. Thanks for the tips - more water, magnesium, pickle juice.

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Sue M
Sue Magee2 days ago

Interesting to read the comments below - I also take magnesium which seems to help

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Carole Allen
Carole Allen2 days ago

1 to 2 tablespoons of mustard. I take a daily magnesium but still suffer major foot and leg cramps on occasion. The mustard actually works and works quickly.

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Robyn Reed
Robyn Reed3 days ago

One magnesium tablet makes the cramp go fairly quickly for me.

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Richard B
Richard B3 days ago

thank you

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Hannah A
Hannah A3 days ago

Thank you

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Martha P
Martha P4 days ago

thanks for this

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Irene S
Irene S4 days ago

I agree with Edith B., magnesium is all I need after a day full of sweaty work.

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