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. italian restaurant near me


    June 16, 2021 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. appomannoni

    erectile function restored after turp kayamy erectile shake
    erectile shots slilicy are erectile disorder coverage under aca
    order erectile dysfunction pills sicAdofs erectile cream for me

    June 16, 2021 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. painters near me

    Great article! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our website. Keep up the good writing.


    June 16, 2021 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. gun shows near me

    This is a topic that's close to my heart... Thank you! Where are your contact details though?


    June 16, 2021 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. dispensary near me

    Itís difficult to find well-informed people for this topic, however, you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 16, 2021 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. walmart pharmacy near me


    June 16, 2021 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. bbq near me

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post! It's the little changes which will make the largest changes. Many thanks for sharing!


    June 16, 2021 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Binance advcash

    That is very fascinating, You're a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your feed and look forward to looking for more of your great post.
    Also, I've shared your web site in my social networks

    June 16, 2021 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sprinter Repair Near Me


    June 16, 2021 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. 독골사거리역 더퍼스트뷰

    Do you have a spam issue on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was wanting to know your situation; many of us have created
    some nice practices and we are looking to swap solutions with other folks, be sure to
    shoot me an e-mail if interested.

    June 16, 2021 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    I was very pleased to discover this page. I wanted to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every bit of it and i also have you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff on your blog.


    June 16, 2021 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. shoe store near me

    This is the perfect blog for everyone who wishes to understand this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a topic that has been written about for decades. Great stuff, just wonderful!


    June 16, 2021 at 23:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. homes for sale near me


    June 16, 2021 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However I am encountering difficulties with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    June 17, 2021 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. RV Repair Shop Near Me

    After looking over a few of the blog posts on your site, I honestly like your way of writing a blog. I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site too and tell me your opinion.


    June 17, 2021 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. flower shop near me

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be helpful to read content from other authors and use something from their web sites.


    June 17, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. roofing companies near me


    June 17, 2021 at 02:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. RV Repair Mission Viejo


    June 17, 2021 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. appomannoni

    erectile enhancer kayamy what cause erectile dysfunction
    herbs for erectile dysfunction slilicy erectile dysfunction icd 10
    erectile curve sicAdofs erectile medication over counter

    June 17, 2021 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Repair Orange County


    June 17, 2021 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. RV Repair Around Me

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who was doing a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me dinner simply because I found it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss this issue here on your internet site.


    June 17, 2021 at 03:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RV Repair Shops Near My Location


    June 17, 2021 at 04:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Repairs Near My Location


    June 17, 2021 at 05:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. RV Repairs Near Me


    June 17, 2021 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Repair Around Me

    When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Is there an easy method you can remove me from that service? Cheers!


    June 17, 2021 at 05:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. RV Repair

    I like looking through an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!


    June 17, 2021 at 05:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Repair Near Me

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be exciting to read content from other authors and use something from their web sites.


    June 17, 2021 at 06:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. appomannoni

    can erectile dysfunction caused by guilt kayamy best erectile pump
    tens 7000 erectile dysfunction slilicy can erectile dysfunction be revewsw
    top erectile dysfunction supplements sicAdofs does erectile dysfunction ever reverse

    June 17, 2021 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. liquor stores near me


    June 17, 2021 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. RV Repair California


    June 17, 2021 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. batteries plus near me


    June 17, 2021 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. hair salon near me

    After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks!


    June 17, 2021 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. lumber yards near me

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality blogs on the net. I am going to recommend this web site!


    June 17, 2021 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. phone repair near me


    June 17, 2021 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. total wine near me

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day. It will always be useful to read articles from other authors and practice something from their web sites.


    June 17, 2021 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. michaels near me

    This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Thanks!


    June 17, 2021 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. driving schools near me

    This website definitely has all of the information I wanted concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 17, 2021 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. appomannoni

    erectile boosting medication kayamy erectile reverser
    erectile aids for men slilicy erectile remedies
    how erectile dysfunction drugs work sicAdofs erectile function index 5

    June 17, 2021 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. movers near me

    Hi! I just want to offer you a big thumbs up for your excellent information you have got right here on this post. I will be coming back to your web site for more soon.


    June 17, 2021 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. staples near me

    Saved as a favorite, I like your website!


    June 17, 2021 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. dutch bros near me


    June 17, 2021 at 20:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. 5 below near me


    June 17, 2021 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. library near me


    June 18, 2021 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. italian food near me

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality blogs on the net. I'm going to recommend this site!


    June 18, 2021 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. albertsons near me

    Hi, I do believe this is a great blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may return yet again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.


    June 18, 2021 at 01:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. optometrist near me


    June 18, 2021 at 02:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. appomannoni

    is erectile dysfunction treatable kayamy erectile issues after 40
    erectile help slilicy erectile enhancement supplements
    compare erectile dysfunction medicines sicAdofs erectile restoration

    June 18, 2021 at 03:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. eye doctor near me

    I wanted to thank you for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I've got you bookmarked to check out new stuff you postÖ


    June 18, 2021 at 05:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. pnc near me


    June 18, 2021 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. att near me


    June 18, 2021 at 07:26 | 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 best realtor 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.