Nighttime leg cramps, also called charley horses, are sudden, painful and involuntary contractions of your leg muscles that occur in the night, often as you sleep. This night cramping typically affects a particular group of shortened muscles. Prevention is better than cure. Some methods are more effective for some people than others, so you may need to try different ones to find what will work best for you.
Stand facing a wall, 2 to 3 feet away. Your feet, hip and shoulders should directly face the wall. Keeping your left leg straight, place your right foot a few inches in front of it.
Place your hands on the wall, keeping them at chest level. Slightly bend your elbows and lean forward toward the wall.
Slowly bend the knee of your right foot, feeling the calf muscle in your left leg stretch. Hold the stretch for at least 15 seconds, and keep both of your heels flat on the ground all through the exercise.
Switch foot positions and repeat to stretch your right calf, if it is affected.
Sit down comfortably. Stretch out and straighten the affected leg in front of you.
Flex your foot upward and back toward you, without bending your knee. Keep your knee straight.
Help the process by rolling up a towel, placing it behind the sole of your foot and holding both ends as you flex your foot backwards.
Try taking three minerals in particular to help regulate muscle activity: potassium, calcium and magnesium. A deficiency or imbalance in these may contribute to nighttime cramps.
Get enough vitamin E in your diet. Studies show that vitamin E helps reduce night cramping by improving arterial blood circulation. A daily dose of 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E seems to be effective.
Consider certain herbs that have been found to help with night cramps. Black cohosh root has antispasmodic properties that serve as natural muscle relaxants. Bilberry has muscle-relaxant properties, and also improves blood circulation through the extremities. Ginkgo biloba also improves circulation in the extremities by dilating the arteries feeding your leg tissue.
Stretch and firmly massage the cramping muscles immediately to aid circulation. Jiggle your leg and walk around as well.
Consult with your doctor about taking quinine water or a quinine pill in the evening. Keep in mind, however, that quinine is toxic when taken over extensive periods.
Take a hot shower, warm bath or immerse the cramping leg in hot water until the cramps subside.
Do the calf stretching exercises on each leg before your bedtime. This helps exhaust the stretch reflex that causes the night cramps.
Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water during the day. Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume, as these tend to dehydrate your body.
Watch your diet. High protein diets have been linked with low levels of potassium and, by extension, increased incidence of nighttime cramps. Taking potassium supplements or a diet rich in potassium may help prevent nighttime cramps, as can a diet rich in calcium and magnesium.
It is always important to consult with your doctor or other health care practitioner regarding your night time cramps, because the symptoms may be caused by a serious underlying condition such as diabetes that may need medical attention.