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. parts shop near me


    May 12, 2021 at 03:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. horse trailer paint

    This is the right blog for everyone who really wants to find out about this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic which has been discussed for a long time. Excellent stuff, just excellent!


    May 12, 2021 at 07:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. rv service orange county ca


    May 12, 2021 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Solar Panels Systems Orange County

    This excellent website truly has all the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 12, 2021 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sprinter Service


    May 12, 2021 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. progressive repair center

    Good info. Lucky me I recently found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!


    May 12, 2021 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RV Paint Shop Riverside


    May 12, 2021 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. photo restoration orange county ca

    Excellent blog you've got here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    May 12, 2021 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. paint repair shop near me


    May 12, 2021 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tires orange county


    May 12, 2021 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. RV Technician California


    May 12, 2021 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Toilets California


    May 12, 2021 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mercedes Sprinter Authorized Repair Center


    May 12, 2021 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. truck repair around me


    May 12, 2021 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. RV Interior Remodeling Los Angeles


    May 12, 2021 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. RV Furniture California


    May 12, 2021 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. flooring repair near me

    Aw, this was a really good post. Spending some time and actual effort to create a superb article… but what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.


    May 12, 2021 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Handicap Van Repair

    Good info. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon). I've book-marked it for later!


    May 12, 2021 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. all class rv yorba linda

    I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your content. This great article has truly peaked my interest. I will take a note of your website and keep checking for new information about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed as well.


    May 13, 2021 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. rv interior repair

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. There's no doubt that that you need to publish more about this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people do not discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!


    May 13, 2021 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. upholstery repair shop near me

    You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this website!


    May 13, 2021 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Ram Van Frame Repair


    May 13, 2021 at 01:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. shop repair near me

    Great info. Lucky me I came across your site by accident (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!


    May 13, 2021 at 01:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Mercedes Sprinter Sliding Door Track Repair


    May 13, 2021 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. vinyl wraps for rv


    May 13, 2021 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mercedes Sprinter Repair Shops

    Hi there, I do think your website could possibly be having internet browser compatibility problems. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine however, when opening in IE, it's got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Apart from that, excellent website!


    May 13, 2021 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Kitchen Near Me

    Hi, I do believe this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to come back 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 help others.


    May 13, 2021 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. camper repair center

    The very next time I read a blog, Hopefully it doesn't fail me just as much as this one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I really thought you would have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something you could fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    May 13, 2021 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Technician Orange County

    You have made some good points there. I looked on the internet to learn more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.


    May 13, 2021 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. RV Entertainment System Near Me

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


    May 13, 2021 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. 32955 Sprinter Repair


    May 13, 2021 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. rv body repair parts

    Excellent post. I will be experiencing some of these issues as well..


    May 13, 2021 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Sprinter Van Ecm Repair

    The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it does not disappoint me as much as this particular one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, however I genuinely believed you would have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something you could possibly fix if you were not too busy searching for attention.


    May 13, 2021 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. furniture restoration orange county

    Wonderful article! We are linking to this great content on our website. Keep up the great writing.


    May 13, 2021 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Countertops Riverside


    May 13, 2021 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. rv fiberglass repair

    May I just say what a comfort to find someone who actually knows what they're discussing over the internet. You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people should read this and understand this side of the story. I was surprised that you aren't more popular because you most certainly possess the gift.


    May 13, 2021 at 19:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. california collision center lancaster


    May 13, 2021 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. furniture repair shops near me

    This is the right website for anyone who wishes to understand this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that has been written about for ages. Wonderful stuff, just excellent!


    May 13, 2021 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. rv refurbishing business

    It’s hard to find well-informed people for this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 13, 2021 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. rv repair shop near me


    May 13, 2021 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. RV Toilets California


    May 14, 2021 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. orange shop near me


    May 14, 2021 at 02:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. camper van near me

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


    May 14, 2021 at 03:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Cabinet Riverside

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It's always interesting to read through articles from other writers and use something from other web sites.


    May 14, 2021 at 04:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Mercedes Benz Sprinter Rv Service Locations

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the issues. It was truly informative. Your site is useful. Thanks for sharing!


    May 14, 2021 at 05:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. RV Inspection Los Angeles


    May 14, 2021 at 06:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. rv tire repair near me

    Howdy, I do believe your blog could be having browser compatibility problems. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it's got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Apart from that, fantastic blog!


    May 14, 2021 at 06:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Blinds Orange County


    May 14, 2021 at 06:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. orange county trailers


    May 14, 2021 at 07:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Van Dent Repair


    May 14, 2021 at 07:31 | 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 mcd rv center


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.