The ANSWER…. What causes leg cramps while sleeping?

Leg cramps normally occur when your leg muscles contract and become painful. It’s a very common condition and is often harmless. In most cases, leg cramps usually affect the calf muscles.

Some rare cases also affect the thighs and feet.

Once this painful contraction passes, your legs may feel numb and tender for up to 10 minutes. Leg cramps that affect the thighs usually last the longest.

According to findings of one report published in the American Family Physician, experiencing leg cramps while sleeping is more common than you would think. Approximately 60% of adults and around 7% of children often undergo this painful ordeal at night.

On average, three out of four cramping episodes happen while sleeping.

As you might have guessed, nocturnal leg cramps usually disrupt the victim’s sleep cycle and prolonged episodes might cause insomnia.

In this article, we’ll be discussing what causes leg cramps while sleeping, some of the common treatments you can use, prevention measures that you can adopt, and finally highlight key red flags that demand medical attention.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

Below are some of the causes of leg cramps while sleeping.

Leg muscle fatigue

Overexertion of leg muscles during the day is one of the main culprits that causes leg cramps while sleeping at night. Engaging in intensive exercises or standing for long hours during the day usually exhausts the leg muscles, making them more vulnerable to cramping at night.

Prolonged sitting

Sitting for longer periods during the day and not engaging in any form of stretching exercise causes nocturnal leg cramps. This kind of physical inactivity causes your body muscles to shorten and increases the risk of your leg muscles cramp or spasm while you sleep.

Wrong sleeping posture

Sleeping in a position that interferes with normal blood circulation to your legs is a common cause of leg cramps during the night. Sleeping with your legs crossed is an example of bad sleeping posture. You should always adopt a culture of sleeping in a position that stretches out your muscles and doesn’t restrict blood flow to the legs.

Chronic medical issues

Long-term illnesses such as those relating to blood sugar, kidney health, liver, and nerves also cause leg cramps while sleeping.

Drug side effect

Several medicines such as conjugated estrogens, naproxen, and many others often caution muscle cramping as a high potential side effect. Normally, these drugs cause electrolyte imbalances and hormonal changes in the body and might later cause leg cramps while you sleep.

Treating Leg and Calf Cramps

Treating leg cramps immediately will tremendously increase your chances of sleeping better for the rest of the night. Here are some quick remedies to help you find relief while at home:

  • Gently stretch out your leg muscles
  • Massage the affected part using your hand or a foam roller
  • Flex and release your feet repeatedly to help extend the contracting muscles
  • Apply a warm surface to the affected area

Many people often rush to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin not knowing that leg cramps aren’t inflammatory by nature. Therefore, these drugs only help to relieve the pain and can’t take away the cramps.

Some of the commonly prescribed drugs for leg cramps in hospitals include medications such as gabapentin, verapamil, carisoprodol, and diltiazem. Remember to talk to your doctor first before buying any drugs off the counter. This will help prepare and plan for any potential side effects.

How to Stop Leg Cramps Before They Start

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Well, here are some quick tips to help you stop leg cramps before they occur:

Hydrate more often

Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, helps transport nutrients to the muscles and wastes away from the muscles. This rejuvenates the muscles and allows them to function properly. Depending on factors such as your age, weather, and the kind of activity you engage in during the day, you should aim at drinking more fluids and stop leg cramps before they happen.

Exercise before going bed

Leg cramps simply refer to the involuntary contraction of leg muscles, and we’ve already established that shorter muscles are prone to cramping. Stretching your legs before retiring to bed helps extend your calf muscle and prevents getting leg cramps in advance. Some quick mild exercises to engage in are jogging, walking, and riding a bike.

Change the way you sleep

Sleeping with your feet pointing downwards restricts blood flow to your legs and causes leg cramps while you sleep. Luckily, this discomfort can be avoided by simply changing your sleeping position. Try putting a pillow underneath your knees and sleep on your back.

Wear supportive shoes

Wearing unsupportive shoes often leads to problems relating to nerves and leg muscles. People with flat feet usually suffer from leg cramps more when they use poor footwear. If you’re uncertain of how supportive your footwear is, consult your podiatrist to avoid getting leg cramps before they start.

When to See a Doctor

Leg cramps are more common and often don’t require a medical diagnosis. Situations where the cramps become more frequent, disrupt your normal sleeping cycle, and weakens your leg muscles, may indicate an underlying chronic health issue that demands medical attention.

In summary, you should see a doctor when:

  • Your cramps fails to recede after 10 minutes, despite stretching and massaging the leg
  • They occur after a previous exposure to toxic or infectious substances like lead
  • The pain is abnormally severe
  • It is a potential side effect or allergic reaction to a certain medication

Any of the above-named manifestations calls for urgent medical assistance, and you should immediately contact your doctor for guidance and medical advice.


Three out of four people having leg cramps usually get them while sleeping. This statistic means that getting nocturnal leg cramps isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Stretching your leg muscles, massaging the affected area, or applying any of the outlined home remedies goes a long way in treating leg cramps.

If the cramps persist for more than ten minutes and the pain is abnormally severe, you should seek medical help. Your doctor will give you a complete diagnosis and prescribe some medication to help relieve the cramps.

Finally, remember to drink plenty of fluids and do some mild exercises before going to bed. These practices help to stop leg cramps before they start.

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