What Are the Causes of Night Leg Cramps?

There is something terribly alarming--as well as downright painful--about being abruptly summoned out of a sound sleep by leg cramps. Most people will experience nighttime leg cramping at one time or another.

Sometimes it is the result of overexertion during the day; however, it can also be caused by the exact opposite--a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to nighttime leg cramping.


Digitalnaturopath.com explains that although research as been done on the cause of nocturnal muscle cramping, the specific origin is still unknown. It is believed by the medical community that the root of the problem may have to do with the nerves that control the muscles rather than with the muscles themselves. Cramps may be the outcome of a malfunction in the control system that, when working optimally, separates the body movements that we make while dreaming from our brain, since cramps often occur while a person is dreaming. Furthermore, cramps often happen as a person is transitioning from sleep to wakefulness.

Possible Causes

One cause of nighttime leg cramping is a condition called claudification, which occurs when the circulation to your legs is reduced while you are sleeping. When you experience claudification pain, this indicates that lactic acid and chemicals have accumulated in your muscles. This causes pain and cramping. Oxygen deprivation results when blood flow is restricted. If you are sleeping in the wrong position, this could curtail blood flow and cause cramping. Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and heart problems can also cause nocturnal leg cramping.

Medical Conditions

There are certain conditions that can contribute to muscle cramps, including alcoholism, chronic kidney failure, hypothyroidism, cirrhosis, diarrhoea, peripheral artery disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, endocrine maladies, anaemia, hypoglycaemia and Addison's disease, according to the Mayo Clinic and Diagnose-me.com.

Those at Risk

If you are dehydrated, this can lead to nighttime leg cramps. People who are muscular are more likely to have cramps. If you suffer from flat feet, this can lead to leg cramps, as can low levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Taking water pills (diuretics) can lead to muscle cramping, as can undergoing dialysis.

Enlarged Uterus

Women who are pregnant are often awakened in the night by leg cramps, which may be due to the enlarged uterus putting pressure on parts of the body, according to Cure-back-pain.org. In addition, the pregnant uterus puts pressure on blood vessels that take the blood from the heart to the nerves that lead to your legs. If blood flow is interfered with, this can result in cramping.


You may need to get a blood test to see if you have an electrolyte imbalance that is causing your nighttime leg cramping. Home-remedies-for-you.com recommends sleeping with a rolled up towel under your feet. This will keep your toes from pointing down, which can cause cramping. Staying hydrated and maintaining a diet that is replete in calcium and potassium should help prevent leg cramps. Put a heating pad on your cramping leg to help reduce the pain and allow the muscles to relax.