What are night leg cramps?
Leg cramps occur at the level of the muscles which tighten and contract, thereby causing great pain. It is a sensation that comes suddenly and may last fmo a few seconds to several minutes. A muscle cramp is often known as a Charley horse. Night leg cramps involve sudden spasms of muscles in the legs, mostly at the calf, and sometimes at the thigh or even the foot, at a time when one is falling into sleep or waking up. These nocturnal leg cramps are a source of sleep disturbances, preventing one from getting some good sleep. They might also be associated with other sleep disorders.
Why do night leg cramps occur?
The reason the night leg cramps is not always understood. They may occur as a result of many factors. The following list gives a broad overview over the possible reasons causing leg cramps:
- Pregnancy – cramps are common during the late months of pregnancy as the woman may be experiencing deficiencies in minerals like calcium and magnesium.
- Lack of certain of minerals like calcium and potassium for the normal person.
- Environments with cold temperatures, or even exposure to cold water.
- Medical problems which obstruct normal blood flow like peripheral arterial disease and also kidney disease.
- Remaining practically immobile in a position for a long time – sitting, standing, awkward sleeping positions.
- Dehydration – water is needed for the transport of minerals and other useful substances around the body. If water is lacking, the muscles ultimately feel the repercussions; hence the need for athletes specially to consume adequate amounts of water since exercising makes them lose more water, while they are at the same time exerting their muscles to work. If one limits one’s consumption of water while drinking sugary drinks or coffee, one will tend to lose more water since these drinks contribute to dehydration. The decrease of these drinks would thus help reduce muscle cramps.
- Certain medication might also cause cramps, like birth control pills, steroids, diuretics.
The most vulnerable ones are pregnant women and old people because of their characteristic poor blood circulation.
How are minerals important to prevent cramps?
We need minerals in small amounts to maintain a good health, the lack of which would impact negatively on the body.
A deficiency in potassium is felt at the level of muscles. Potassium is paramount for muscle activity because it serves to balance body fluid concentrations. It is important for muscle control and is needed for the building of muscles.
A deficiency of calcium has been shown to account for muscle tremors and twitching at night. While we might think that milk and milk products are great sources of calcium, the latter are also high in phosphorus, and hence, they are not ideal as calcium replacement food. Calcium-containing food items not consisting of phosphorus work best as calcium replacement to prevent these muscle problems. Food rich in potassium include bananas, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.
To relieve oneself of the night leg cramps, other methods exist such as massaging the body part that is affected: the affected limb should be stretched and massaged. Keeping away from cold and not remaining sedentary also help. Heat compressors can be used, or simply, the person can take a warm bath or shower.