A woman has calf cramps - the cause may be a magnesium deficiency. A woman has calf cramps - the cause may be a magnesium deficiency.

Leg cramps - when the pain interrupts your sleep

You’re dozing peacefully and suddenly an almost unbearable pain shoots into your calf. Find out all about night-time leg cramps. Night-time leg cramps don’t last long but they usually make it impossible for you to get back to sleep. Why is it that muscle cramps so often torture us at night? And how can they be treated or – better still – prevented?

Night-time leg cramps – the signs of a common phenomenon

Night-time muscle cramps, like day-time cramps, manifest themselves as a sudden contraction of the muscles. They can affect thigh muscles or foot muscles as well as calves. And the pain often disappears as quickly as it came. In some cases, however, it can persist for up to ten minutes. But these unpleasant cramps disturb your sleep wherever they occur and however long they last.

Muscle cramps that wake us up at night are a widespread phenomenon, even when you’re young. 90% of young adults report occasional night-time leg cramps. But they do increase as you get older. Around 33% to 50% of people over 65 experience night-time leg cramps more than once a week.1

Causes and triggers of night-time leg cramps

Muscles contract and relax again – that’s an important function that’s necessary for any movement to occur. Muscle cramps occur when the muscle contracts involuntarily for a short period of time. The reason they often occur particularly at night is probably because due to the rhythm of the magnesium metabolism processes. The level of magnesium in the blood fluctuates in the course of a day and is lower at night and the early morning hours than during the day.

Magnesium deficiency

If you are frequently plagued by night-time leg cramps you might have a magnesium deficiency. Together with calcium, magnesium is responsible for muscle contraction and relaxation. Magnesium plays an important role in transmitting nerve impulses to muscles. If you have a magnesium deficiency (perhaps because of heavy sweating) the nerves may overstimulate, in other words transmit multiple signals to the muscle so that it goes into cramp, resulting in uncontrolled impulses that the manifest themselves at night as leg cramps.

Other potential triggers of night-time leg cramps include:

  • Excessive muscle strain (for example through intensive training)
  • Hormonal effects (during pregnancy or menstruation)
  • Sleeping in awkward positions

Most cases of night-time leg cramps do not have severe underlying causes. But anyone who suffers from very frequent symptoms or notices additional signs of disease should consult a doctor. The doctor can rule out other triggers such as diseases of the bone, muscle or nerves or the effects of medication (diuretics, for example).

Help with acute night-time leg cramps

If you’re woken up at night by painful muscle cramp you just want the pain to subside as quickly as possible. The following tips may be helpful in acute cases:

  • Gently stretch and massage your calf muscles to relieve the cramp by pressing down your heel and drawing your toes up towards your body.
  • Stand up and take a few steps around the room. Moving also loosens up the cramped muscle. But be careful: don’t stand up too quickly, to avoid injuring yourself.
  • Place a hot water bottle or warm cloth on your calf. The heat stimulates circulation and alleviates the pain.

Treating night-time leg cramps

If your night-time leg cramps are due to a magnesium deficiency you should reverse the deficiency with foods that are rich in magnesium or magnesium products. Biolectra® magnesium products, for example, are good for this. They are a simple way to help you ensure you get your daily magnesium supply and prevent annoying muscle cramps*.

If leg cramps frequently occur at night, or are associated with severe pain, your doctor can provide other drug treatment options. In rare cases, for example muscle-relaxants are used in addition to analgesics.

* due to magnesium deficiency