Get Some Sleep: Avoid frequent leg cramping
Leg cramps usually involve sudden, intense pain, unlike RLS, which is usually a steady, uncomfortable feeling that lasts for hours.
August 2nd, 2011
12:19 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Avoid frequent leg cramping

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs regularly on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

It is frustrating, to both patients and doctors, that modern medical science often lacks understanding of or treatment for common, everyday ailments.

One such ailment, leg cramps, is very common and yet poorly understood. It often plagues people at night, and therefore “sleep-related leg cramps” is recognized as a bona fide sleep disorder by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders.

Most people have had a “charley horse” and know that leg cramps can be quite painful. Leg cramps result from the sudden, intense and involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscle group. They usually occur in the calf muscle or the small muscles of the feet.

If this happens once a year, few people think of this as a medical condition, but there are people who have leg cramps every night, sometimes several times a night. The cramps can prevent people from falling asleep or can awaken them many times during the night, and therefore leg cramps can lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

The painful sensation is usually relieved by strenuous stretching of the affected muscle. Often, people jump out of bed in their attempt to stop the searing pain. Both the prevalence and frequency increase as people age. There is research showing that approximately one-third of all people over the age of 60 and one-half of those over the age of 80 reported having sleep-related leg cramps once in the previous two months. Six percent of adults over the age of 60 have reported having leg cramps that disturb them every night.

Leg cramps are sometimes confused with restless legs syndrome (now known as Willis-Ekbom disease), but the two disorders are quite different, although patients can have both problems.

RLS is not commonly described as a sudden, intense pain. Also, people who suffer from RLS usually have a steady, uncomfortable feeling in the legs that lasts for hours, and this maddening feeling is only temporarily relieved for a few minutes while they move or rub their legs.

There are some medical conditions that seem to predispose people to leg cramps such as diabetes, peripheral vascular disease and neuromuscular disorders. Medications such as oral contraceptives have been associated with leg cramps. They occur in approximately 40% of pregnant women and usually resolve after birth.

If leg cramping is frequent and intense, people should not assume that they have benign, idiopathic (of unknown cause) leg cramps. It is advised to consult a physician in order to differentiate leg cramps from more serious medical conditions such as akathisia, myelopathy, peripheral neuropathy and disorders of calcium imbalance.

There are numerous theories about the cause of leg cramps but little evidence supporting the veracity of any given theory. One common notion is that they result from dehydration, but the little research done does not support this.

Also common is the idea that there is a relative electrolyte imbalance. Magnesium and potassium are popular culprits. Again, there is little research on this. One study attempted to treat leg cramps in a group of pregnant women and found that magnesium was no better than a placebo.

The same is true for potassium deficiency; there is no research showing that low potassium causes leg cramps or that taking extra potassium prevents them. That said, I have patients who swear that a banana before bed takes care of the leg cramping problem. I also know people who report that sitting in a bath of Epsom salts right before bed helps ward off  nocturnal leg cramps.

I have patients who think that the leg cramps come upon them only when they exercise strenuously, and then there are those who associate the cramps with lack of exercise. The best theory is the “squatting hypothesis,” which speculates that leg cramping is associated with the modern habit of sitting on chairs and on the toilet instead of squatting as our forebears would have done.

I believe that is just another way of saying that leg cramps could be caused by a lack of strengthening and stretching of the calf and feet muscles.

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Post by:
Filed under: Pain • Sleep

soundoff (1,613 Responses)
  1. RV Flooring Riverside

    I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your content. This article has really peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your Feed as well.


    June 12, 2021 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Pleasure Way Van Repair


    June 12, 2021 at 10:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Gmc Safari Van Repair


    June 12, 2021 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Authorized Dodge Sprinter Repair

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to revisit yet again since i have saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.


    June 12, 2021 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. appomannoni

    erectile treatment kayamy erectile implant surgery
    best erectile medicine slilicy erectile strength
    cheapest erectile med sicAdofs erectile injection therapy plan

    June 12, 2021 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. kia dealership near me


    June 12, 2021 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. early voting near me

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this site needs a lot more attention. Iíll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!


    June 12, 2021 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. watch repair near me

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you so much, However I am going through troubles with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I cannot join it. Is there anybody getting the same RSS problems? Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!


    June 12, 2021 at 18:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. dominos near me

    That is a very good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate infoÖ Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!


    June 12, 2021 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. full time jobs near me

    I like reading an article that can make people think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!


    June 12, 2021 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. bars open near me


    June 12, 2021 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. music store near me


    June 12, 2021 at 19:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. computer repair near me


    June 12, 2021 at 20:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. appomannoni

    erectile disorder 38 cfr kayamy erectile pills in canada
    erectile desensitization slilicy erectile vasectomy
    erectile difficulty sicAdofs antidepressant without erectile dysfunction

    June 12, 2021 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. 5 below near me

    Having read this I believed it was rather informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!


    June 13, 2021 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. malls near me

    I love looking through a post that can make people think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!


    June 13, 2021 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. fast food restaurants near me


    June 13, 2021 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. convenience store near me


    June 13, 2021 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. appomannoni

    erectile blogs kayamy erectile mastery
    antidepressant without erectile dysfunction slilicy erectile function paralysis
    erectile winstrol sicAdofs which erectile dysfunction pills work

    June 13, 2021 at 04:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. garage sales near me

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It's always exciting to read content from other writers and practice a little something from other web sites.


    June 13, 2021 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. liquor stores near me

    Great site you have here.. Itís hard to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!


    June 13, 2021 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. dumpster rental near me


    June 13, 2021 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. u haul near me

    Excellent post. I absolutely love this site. Stick with it!


    June 13, 2021 at 08:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. appomannoni

    erectile health kayamy erectile disorder dsm 5 criteria
    erectile booster method reviews slilicy erectile booster method reviews
    are erectile dysfunction pills covered by aca sicAdofs erectile com

    June 13, 2021 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. bob evans near me


    June 13, 2021 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. oil change near me

    I absolutely love your website.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you make this site yourself? Please reply back as Iím planning to create my own site and want to learn where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Many thanks!


    June 13, 2021 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. stop and shop near me


    June 13, 2021 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. money order near me

    There's definately a lot to know about this issue. I really like all of the points you have made.


    June 13, 2021 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. dentist near me


    June 13, 2021 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. appomannoni

    how erectile dysfunction affects women kayamy erectile pumps and rings
    can erectile dysfunction be permanent slilicy can erectile dysfunction be cured naturally
    do erectile pills permanently increase size sicAdofs can erectile dysfunction be permanent

    June 13, 2021 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. groceries near me


    June 13, 2021 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. beer near me

    I could not refrain from commenting. Well written!


    June 14, 2021 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. moving companies near me

    I used to be able to find good info from your blog articles.


    June 14, 2021 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. appomannoni

    which erectile dysfunction pill is best kayamy which erectile dysfunction foods work fast
    help with erectile dysfunction naturally slilicy erectile dysfunction natural remedies
    best erectile dysfunction pumps sicAdofs is erectile dysfunction permanent

    June 14, 2021 at 04:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. equipment rental near me

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It's the little changes that produce the most significant changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!


    June 14, 2021 at 06:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. traffic near me

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me lunch due to the fact that I found it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue here on your web page.


    June 14, 2021 at 06:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. weather near me

    Everything is very open with a precise description of the challenges. It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing!


    June 14, 2021 at 06:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. seafood market near me

    Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this content together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 14, 2021 at 07:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. asian market near me

    Spot on with this write-up, I really feel this site needs a great deal more attention. Iíll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the info!


    June 14, 2021 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. culver's near me


    June 14, 2021 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. us bank near me


    June 14, 2021 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. appomannoni

    do erectile pills permanently increase size kayamy erectile definition
    erectile tissue function slilicy viagra without erectile dysfunction
    erectile reverser sicAdofs erectile tissue problems

    June 14, 2021 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. jobs near me

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It's always useful to read articles from other authors and use a little something from other sites.


    June 14, 2021 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. cheap apartments near me


    June 14, 2021 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. tires near me

    Very good post. I will be facing many of these issues as well..


    June 14, 2021 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. medical supply store near me

    After looking at a handful of the articles on your web page, I seriously appreciate your way of blogging. I added it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back soon. Take a look at my web site as well and tell me how you feel.


    June 14, 2021 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. passport photos near me

    I absolutely love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself? Please reply back as Iím hoping to create my very own blog and would like to find out where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Cheers!


    June 14, 2021 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. appomannoni

    erectile tissue location and function kayamy erectile rehabilitation therapy
    erectile capacity slilicy erectile creams rite aid
    erectile sonic sicAdofs is erectile dysfunction covered by medicare

    June 14, 2021 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Repairs Near Me


    June 14, 2021 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. RV Repair Santa Ana


    June 14, 2021 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Leave a Reply to camper repair shops near me


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.