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 Refrigerator Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 01:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RV Repair Parts Near Me

    Iím impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog thatís both educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy I stumbled across this in my hunt for something concerning this.


    June 25, 2021 at 01:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Repair Shop Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 01:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Nearby RV Repairs

    Hi! I could have sworn Iíve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the posts I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím certainly happy I stumbled upon it and Iíll be book-marking it and checking back often!


    June 25, 2021 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. RV Repair Store Near Me

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this post! It's the little changes that will make the greatest changes. Thanks for sharing!


    June 25, 2021 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RV Repair Shops Near Me Now


    June 25, 2021 at 03:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RV Sales And Repair Near Me

    Hi, I do believe this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to revisit yet again since I book marked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.


    June 25, 2021 at 05:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RV Air Conditioning Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 06:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. togel hongķong

    blog komen

    Hello there! I could have sworn I've been to this site before but after looking at some
    of the posts I realized it's new to me. Nonetheless, I'm definitely delighted I found
    it and I'll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

    togel online
    slot online
    slot pulsa
    togel pulsa
    togel deposit pulsa
    slot deposit pulsa
    judi slot online
    daftar situs judi slot online terpercaya
    situs judi slot
    pragmatic slot
    togel hongķong 2020
    togel singapore
    togel hongkong
    togel hari ini
    togel hk
    togel singapura
    togel sdy
    dewa togel
    togel sidney
    pengeluaran togel
    togel sdy
    shio togel

    June 25, 2021 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. appomannoni

    can erectile dysfunction be temporary http://sildenafilbch.com#

    June 25, 2021 at 08:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. collision experts fargo


    June 25, 2021 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Repair Places Near Me

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying this information.


    June 25, 2021 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. RV Repair Seal Beach


    June 25, 2021 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Camper Repairs Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. RV Furnace Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. RV Engine Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Darline Cullen

    Great articles. Thank you for the information learn spanish pdf


    June 25, 2021 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Leadership Strengths


    June 25, 2021 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Repair Services Near Me

    Great info. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I've saved it for later!


    June 25, 2021 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Best RV Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RV Awning Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Repair Near My Location


    June 25, 2021 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. appomannoni

    erectile bleeding http://cialisetce.com#

    June 25, 2021 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Isaac Mcquary


    June 25, 2021 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Camper Repair Shop Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Chassis Repair Near Me

    Itís difficult to find experienced people about this topic, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 25, 2021 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. shortener

    I enjoy what you guys are up too. This sort of clever work
    and coverage! Keep up the wonderful works guys I've included you
    guys to my own blogroll.

    June 25, 2021 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Repair Huntington Beach


    June 25, 2021 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. RV Suspension Repair Near Me

    After I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service? Kudos!


    June 25, 2021 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RV Repair Near Me

    Having read this I thought it was really enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this content together. I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!


    June 25, 2021 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Lillian Fogelman

    I blog frequently and I really appreciate your content. This article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new information about once per week. I opted in for your Feed too.


    June 25, 2021 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. RV Air Conditioning Repair Near Me

    I used to be able to find good advice from your blog posts.


    June 25, 2021 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. 후불제출장

    You are so awesome! I do not believe I have read through something like this before.
    So wonderful to discover someone with genuine thoughts on this subject
    matter. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This
    site is one thing that's needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

    June 25, 2021 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Repair Near My Location


    June 25, 2021 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. appomannoni

    erectile means http://sildenafiltrxy.com#

    June 25, 2021 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. berita kamboja

    Hey there would you mind letting me know which hosting
    company you're using? I've loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads
    a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a reasonable price?
    Kudos, I appreciate it!

    June 25, 2021 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    https://www.iaai.com/VehicleInspection/InspectionProvidersUrl?name=AA Transit Pros Inspection Service&url=http://ns501960.ip-192-99-8.net

    June 26, 2021 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Lola Anno


    June 26, 2021 at 00:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. RV Roof Repair Near Me


    June 26, 2021 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. RV Repair California

    Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I'll send this information to him. Pretty sure he will have a very good read. Thanks for sharing!


    June 26, 2021 at 04:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. RV Exhaust Repair Near Me


    June 26, 2021 at 05:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. RV Air Conditioning Repair Near Me


    June 26, 2021 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. appomannoni

    erectile medication over counter http://chloroquinestrx.com#

    June 26, 2021 at 07:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Camper Repair Shop Near Me


    June 26, 2021 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Jewell Bordinger


    June 26, 2021 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Brake Repair Near Me

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service? Cheers!


    June 26, 2021 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. bat dong san pham ngoc hanh

    Link exchange is nothing else however it is just placing the other person's blog link on your page at appropriate place and other person will
    also do similar in favor of you.

    June 26, 2021 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Repair Shop Near Me


    June 26, 2021 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. RV Repair Near My Location


    June 26, 2021 at 12:59 | 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 Sprinter Seat Belt Buckle Repair


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.