Night leg cramps, or nocturnal leg cramps, are a sudden tightening of the muscles in the leg, usually in the calves. Calf cramps can be so painful that they wake you from a sound sleep. The risk of experiencing leg cramps increases with age. As many as 70 per cent of the elderly may experience night leg cramps, according to Tufts University. Possible causes of calf cramps can be muscle overexertion, prolonged sitting or standing, nutritional deficiencies or dehydration. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent calf cramps while you're sleeping.
Drink fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Include 236 to 473ml of tonic water. Tonic water contains quinine, which may help prevent muscle cramps by lessening the excitability of nerves, according to Harvard Medical School.
Wear comfortable flat shoes that offer good support. Avoid wearing high heels, if possible.
Stretch your leg muscles three times each day. Place your hands against a wall. Take one or two steps backward until your legs are straight. Keep your heels on the floor until you feel a strong stretch in your calves. Hold for 10 seconds.
Untuck the sheets and blankets at the foot of your bed each night. Tucked-in bedding can press your feet down, which will tighten the calf muscles.
Include potassium-rich foods in your diet, such as bananas, apricots, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, grapefruit and oranges. A diet lacking in potassium can cause calf cramps.
Place a heating pad on your calves for 10 minutes before going to sleep.
Cut back on consuming sugar and caffeine, as they can hamper your body's ability to absorb vital nutrients from food.
Ride a stationary bicycle before going to bed.
Sleep with your toes pointing up, not downward or sideways.
When calf cramps occur, try massaging the cramped muscle with ice or your hand. A hot bath with Epsom salts can relax calf cramps. Rub the calf cramp with arnica cream to relax the muscle. Arnica cream can be purchased at most health food stores.
Seek medical attention if you experience persistent calf cramping or it interferes with your ability to sleep.