Go to page content

What Causes Leg Cramps at Night? 7 Remedies to Help 

Are you often waking up with leg cramps at night? Learn more about the possible causes.

Woman grimacing in pain as she massages her left calf with her right hand while sitting up in bed. 

If you’ve woken up clutching your leg due to leg cramps at night, you’d know it disturbs your sleep because it can be painful.

Leg cramps happen because of a sudden contraction of your feet or leg muscles. You may feel it at irregular intervals, and it can lead to secondary insomnia. This is when you have trouble sleeping due to a medical condition or it is disrupting daily activities.

Here’s what causes leg cramps at night and what you can do to reduce it.

What Causes Leg Cramps at Night? 

Several factors have been associated with an increased risk of the problem, including:  

  • Pregnancy 
  • Being over 50 years of age 
  • Overexertion due to exercise 
  • Excessive alcohol intake 
  • Chronic dehydration 
  • Prolonged sitting with crossed legs 
  • Sleeping under tight bed covers that cause your toes to point downward 
  • Medication use: Diuretics, anti-inflammatories, and statins 
  • Structural disorders: Flat feet or other ankle or feet malformations 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also relates high-intensity physical activities and incorrect sleeping positions to the condition’s onset.

“Cold weather and a weak physique too, can cause leg cramps at night. Being weak can impair blood circulation and lead to a loss of muscle strength, inducing cramps.”

Eu Yan Sang TCM Physician Yoong Zi Yi

A healthcare provider will rule out any underlying conditions before prescribing you treatment options. Some conditions that can cause leg cramps at night are: 

  • Kidney failure: Cramps that are accompanied by metabolic signs or symptoms 
  • Intermittent claudication: A deep, aching pain that feels like cramping, usually happens during exercise 
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Numbness, pain, and a tingling sensation in the affected area that’s accompanied by secondary cramps 
  • Restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder: Non-painful but repetitive leg movements that disrupt your sleep 
  • Myositis, myalgias, Baker’s cysts, and deep vein thrombosis: Deep, aching pain accompanied by physical weakness 

Steps to Stop Leg Cramps at Night  

You can take several steps to relieve leg cramps, which include stretches, massage, and compression.

Stretching

Man looking down as he performs stretches against a red brick wall.
Stretching your calf muscles daily can help prevent leg cramps at night.

Feel a tug in your calf muscles while sleeping? Sit up or stand immediately, straighten your leg, and lift your foot with your toes pointed towards your shin.

If you have the flexibility, reach for your toes and pull them towards you. 

How to stretch to prevent your calves from cramping 

Stand approximately three feet from a wall and lean forward. Reach out to touch the wall with outstretched arms, keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Count to five, stop, and repeat the movement for five minutes. Do this a maximum of three times daily. 

Massage your legs 

Use your hands or a foam roller to massage your legs and soothe any discomfort. Elevate your feet as soon as the symptoms subside. 

Stand and walk 

Stand up, pressing your feet against the floor. Walk around the space while wiggling your feet and toes.

Hot or cold compression 

Unsure of whether to use a hot or cold compress for your leg cramps? Do both! Ideally, you can use ice wrapped in a towel to ease the pain while waiting for the cramp to subside.

Replace the ice with a heating pad or take a warm bath. Doing this will help increase blood flow to your legs. 

Herbal foot bath 

According to Physician Yoong, a herbal foot bath can reduce leg cramps at night by promoting better blood circulation, strengthening the tendons, and expelling Wind. A few of the medicinal ingredients that you can include in the bath are:  

  • Dried papaya (mu gua gan, 木瓜干) 
  • Peach seeds (tao ren, 桃仁) 
  • Rehmannia root (shu di huang, 熟地黄) 
  • Common club moss (shen jin cao, 伸筋草) 
  • Mulberry mistletoe stem (sang ji sheng, 桑寄生) 
  • White peony root (bai shao, 白芍) 

Acupressure massages

As an alternative to herbal medication, acupressure massages encourage better circulation, loosen the tendons, alleviate cramps, and calm pain. Some of the acupoints that can be activated are:  

  • Yin men (BL37, 殷门) 
  • Wei yang (BL39, 委阳) 
  • Wei zhong (BL40, 委中) 
  • Cheng jin (BL56, 承筋) 
  • Cheng shan (BL57, 承山) 

Prescription medication and health supplements 

A clinical healthcare provider will prescribe different medications for nocturnal leg cramps such as carisoprodol, diltiazem, and verapamil. 

If you’re pregnant, magnesium can potentially suppress leg cramps. Multi-vitamin and sodium supplements can also be beneficial. However, use sodium supplements with caution as you could be at risk of blood pressure spikes.

Untreated leg cramps at night may disrupt your sleep, making you feel tired, be less productive and increase your risk of illness. Try combining the tips above with capsules that contain Cordyceps extract, but do speak to a licensed practitioner before taking any herbs.

If you’ve found this article has helped with your leg cramps, be sure to share it with your loved ones.

References

  1. BPAC NZ. Nocturnal leg cramps: is there any relief? [online] [Accessed 12 January 2023]  
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Leg Cramps. [online] [Accessed 12 January 2023]  
  3. American Family Physician. 2012. Nocturnal Leg Cramps. [online] [Accessed 12 January 2023] 

Share this article on

Was This Article Useful to You?

Want more healthy tips?

Get All Things Health in your mailbox today!

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related Articles

Treatments for Mallet Finger
Health & Balance

5 Steps to Straighten a Mallet Finger

A mallet finger is when the tip of the finger involuntarily bends inward towards the palm. Find out how to treat this injury.

Read More
Man holding his elbow in pain.
Health & Balance

Tennis Elbow Injury: Quick Pain-Relievers

Tennis elbow can be a painful and frustrating injury, but relief is possible. Discover effective remedies, including rest, physiotherapy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments.

Read More

The contents of the All Things Health website are for informational and educational purposes only.
Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.