Why Do I Get Leg Cramps (Charley horse) In The Night?

Why Do I Get Leg Cramps In The Night?

Getting leg cramps (Charley horse) in the night is a very unpleasant experience. You might be sitting at your desk and suddenly feel as though you have been kicked by someone, or find that your foot has gone dead for a few seconds and then come back to life again. In this article, we explore the causes of leg cramps at night, how to prevent them, and what to do if they strike anyway.

What is a leg cramp and how can it affect your sleep?

Leg cramps are painful and irritating as they can interrupt your sleep. You will feel a pain in your calf, foot, or any other part of your leg that cramps up. This typically occurs at night when you are typically lying down with your calf muscles relaxed, which can make them susceptible to muscle cramps. An occasional occurrence is not cause for alarm, but if it is happening frequently (3+ times per month) then you should consult with a doctor.

What are some common causes of leg cramps?

Some common causes of leg cramps are dehydration, a tight calf muscle, and an electrolyte imbalance. These can be improved by staying hydrated, stretching the calf muscle before and after exercise, and maintaining a balance in your diet. Learn more about leg cramps here.

The most common cause of leg cramps is a lack of potassium, or an electrolyte imbalance in the body. If you do not get enough potassium in your diet, you run the risk of developing leg cramps. This can occur if you do not eat enough fruits and vegetables to get the potassium your body needs. 

Leg cramps also have been linked with stress

Other causes include:

  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low oxygen levels. 

The best way to relieve the discomfort from leg cramps is to get your potassium balance, or electrolyte balance correct. 

Although they are rare, there can be a few other reasons for having occasional leg cramps. These include: 

  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Heat exhaustion (the body’s reaction to elevated temperature combined with lack of fluid)
  • Stress
  • Some types of chemical poisoning. If your child experiences frequent leg cramps, you should take your child to see a doctor. 

Types of Leg Cramps

There are many different types of leg cramps, but they fall into two main categories: sudden and continuous. 

Sudden leg cramps are typically caused by nerve damage (such as from injury or illness) or from intense muscle pain. Sudden leg cramps can cause severe pain, but the pain is usually short lived because the nerve damage heals within 2-3 days. 

Continuous leg cramps are typically caused by an electrolyte imbalance, such as too much potassium or sodium in your child’s system. Your child may experience a severe burning sensation for hours at a time that is similar to a muscle cramp (though not painful). The burning can be triggered by activity, or even by a need to move their legs. 

Types of Exercise for Leg Cramps If your child has a sudden leg cramp, you should stop the activity that caused it and rest. If your child has a continuous leg cramp, there is usually no reason to stop exercising. 

For those who have intermittent leg cramps, it may be best to avoid walking up stairs while they are experiencing them.

How to prevent leg cramp

A leg cramp is a sudden, sharp pain in the calf that typically lasts for a few seconds. The pain can be felt in the calf muscle, and when it happens at night, it can wake you up from your sleep. Most often, people get leg cramps because of their muscles getting too tight. Others can get them due to dehydration or low potassium levels. In order to avoid getting a muscle cramp, make sure to drink plenty of water and stretch before and after physical activity. If a cramp does occur, try to stretch the muscle. You can also apply ice or heat on your leg for about 20 minutes to reduce pain and inflammation. Read more tips about how to prevent cramps.

How to prevent a calf muscle spasm. Calf muscle spasms are caused by overstretching of the muscles in the back of your legs by kicking or jumping. They are a common cause of cramping. 

Treatment for leg cramps

If you experience leg cramps in the night, it is important to drink lots of water and stretch your legs. The National Institute of Health advises that you should also include calcium, potassium, and vitamin D in your diet. Another good way to reduce the incidence of leg cramps is to get a calf massage. A home remedy for leg cramps is to place a heating pad on your calf or take an Epsom salt bath.

When you are suffering from a severe leg cramp, following method can help you relive the muscles spasms:

  • Stretching the affected limb
  • Massage the affected area of the muscles
  • Move the affected group of muscles in perpendicular to the length of muscle.
  • Hot and cold fomentation may give some relief
  • OTC medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen in appropriate dosages.
  • If symptoms persist you should see your doctor.


How to stop leg cramps immediately

Leg cramps are very common at night. They often happen in a person’s sleep and can be unrelenting. What causes leg cramps? Well, there are many factors that increase the chance of leg cramps. These include dehydration, iron deficiency, lack of exercise, and the use of sedatives or muscle relaxants. Other reasons for leg cramps include: pregnancy related changes, hormone fluctuations (particularly during menopause), diabetes, and alcohol abuse. The good news is that you can prevent them from happening. Here are five ways to stop leg cramps immediately:

How can you avoid them? The best thing you can do is stretch before and after kicking the ball or jumping. If you time it right, you can take a short run up and then bend your knee to stretch it out again. This relieves the spasm. You should also use chalk on your shoes to help prevent slipping when running or jumping.

Try this fix for cramps in the leg: 

  1. Stretching:
  • Take a towel that’s padded with soft cotton and place it under your hamstring (lower back of the leg) while sitting in an easy chair. 
  • Try to bend your knee as far as possible without pain. Hold the position for a few seconds and repeat until no pain or numbness is felt. 
  • After you become comfortable with your chair, you can take the towel off and try to bend your leg even further than before. You’ll likely feel some pain at first. That’s okay — it means that you’re trying to stretch too far, so stop right there! If the pain is gone after a few days of doing this, continue stretching but don’t go as far. 
  • But if the cramps return, know that all but the most extreme stretches should be avoided until they subside on their own.
  1. Inflating your pillow and putting it under your feet is also a good way to ease the pressure that can build up in the calf muscles. 
  2. The lower leg muscles are often forgotten when it comes to calf stretches, but they deserve as much attention as the hamstrings, as these are what work to stabilise the knee during bending and walking motions.
  3. Stretching for Knee Pain
  4. If you’re experiencing lower-leg pain or swelling, you should see your doctor


The article concludes that people who get leg cramps may not be getting enough calcium, potassium, or magnesium. It recommends increasing the intake of these nutrients and suggests foods with high levels of these micronutrients. The article also concludes that muscle cramps may be caused by other factors such as stress, dehydration, and food intolerances

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