You're sleeping peacefully when suddenly your leg is seized with a painful cramp. You're no longer sleeping and you're certainly no longer peaceful. You weren't even dreaming about exercise, so what happened?
Cramps that occur during the night are usually due to a pinched nerve or an exaggeration of a normal muscle-tendon reflex. A particular sleep position, for example, may cause a nerve to be compressed. Or, in changing positions, you may contract a muscle, causing an attached tendon to stretch. The stretched tendon sends a message to the spinal cord, which, in turn, sends a message to the muscle, causing it to contract even more forcefully and resulting in a cramp.
No matter what the cause of the cramping, the bottom line is that muscles that cramp at night have somehow gotten "stuck." The key is to short-circuit this cramping before it happens and disturbs your rest. Here's how:
- Stretch before bed. Take a few minutes before retiring to stretch the muscles that are subject to cramping. Calves are often culprits of nighttime cramping. Stretch them out with the "runner's stretch": Stand facing a wall, your feet positioned two to three feet away from it. Place your palms on the wall at about shoulder height. Keeping your legs straight and your heels pressed against the floor, slowly bend your elbows and lean your upper body toward the wall until you feel a stretch in your calves. Hold for a count of eight, then return to the starting position.
- Be sure you get enough calcium. Nighttime cramps are often associated with a lack of calcium in the diet. Eat plenty of calcium-rich foods like broccoli, spinach, and dairy products (opt for low-fat or fat-free varieties if you're trying to limit your fat or calorie intake). If cramping is still a problem, talk to your doctor about using a calcium supplement.
- Lighten the load. Sometimes, cramps in the legs and feet can be caused by a pile of heavy blankets. Toss off all those covers and try either an electric blanket set on "warm" or a lightweight down comforter.
- Massage the muscle. If you develop a cramp despite using prevention tips, massage the cramped muscle with long strokes toward the heart. Or do so even before you turn off the light for the night; sometimes a massage before you go to sleep can keep those muscles loose and free of cramps until morning.
For more information about remedies for pain, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Maybe you overdid it at the gym or maybe you just slept in a strange position, but we've all experienced sore muscles every now and then. Fortunately, Herbal Remedies for Muscle Pain has the information to get you back in the game.
- If you suffer from neck pain, read Home Remedies for Neck Pain for helpful tips.
- Home Remedies for Back Pain gives advice for treating a sore back at home.
- For information on coping with restless legs syndrome, read Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.