Causes of severe leg cramps at night

Updated May 10, 2017

If you are one of the many who suffer from leg cramps at night, you may be searching for information as to what causes this to happen, so you can get adequate treatment. Nighttime leg cramps can be mild or severe. You may experience pain, cramping or tingling sensations. Leg cramps most often occur in the calf muscle; however, they also can affect the foot and upper leg. They can cause secondary problems when they disturb your sleep. While the exact cause of nighttime leg cramps is still unknown, following are some of the common theories as to what may cause this condition.

Over-worked Muscles

Leg cramps at night may be the result of over exercising or overdoing daytime activity. Too much activity can lead to muscle fatigue and may lead to cramping later on when you are trying to relax. You also may be at risk if you spend long hours standing on hard surfaces, sitting inactive for long periods, or holding your legs in an awkward position while sleeping or during the day.

Lack of Proper Nutrition

If your diet lacks certain nutrients you may experience painful leg cramps at night. If your diet is deficient in potassium, calcium and other minerals, you are at a higher risk. Being dehydrated and not having enough fluid in your body can be another common cause. The right levels of nutrients and water are necessary for proper muscle function and contraction. If your levels are depleted, your muscles can cramp.


Some medications may list night cramps as a side effect. This includes drugs such as birth control pills, diuretics, statins and steroids. All of these medications can cause cramping, because they may deplete your body's levels of fluid, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. See for a complete list of medications that can cause cramping.

Other Medical Conditions

Having a thyroid condition or a neurological disease such as Parkinson's may increase your chances of having nighttime leg cramps. So can living with peripheral artery disease or diabetes. Some medical conditions can hinder your body's ability to get enough oxygen to the muscles, causing them to fatigue and cramp. You also are more prone if you have flat feet or are pregnant. Both may make you walk differently, which can place strain on the muscles of the lower leg and lead to cramping. According to the Mayo Clinic, as we age our chances of experiencing night leg cramps increases.


To help prevent nighttime leg cramps, make sure you stretch before and after vigorous activity and warm up properly. Keeping well hydrated also will help you to minimise your chances of leg cramps at night. If you think your diet may be deficient in certain nutrients, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian to have them analyse your diet and help you make healthy changes.

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About the Author

I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.