5 Simple Tricks to Get Rid of Irritating Nighttime Leg Cramps

By Louise Bevan
Louise Bevan
Louise Bevan
Louise Bevan is a writer, born and raised in London, England. She covers inspiring news and human interest stories.
November 19, 2019 Updated: January 26, 2021

Leg cramping during vigorous exercise is one thing, but leg cramping in the middle of the night is something else entirely. It’s perplexing, it’s painful, and it keeps you awake!

Poor sleep causes a poor mood and low functionality the next day, so this is a no-brainer; it’s essential to figure out how to get rid of leg cramps. To that end, we’ve compiled a handy list of DIY methods for treating and preventing painful leg cramps. But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page; what exactly are nighttime leg cramps?

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Illustration – Shutterstock | aleks333

Nighttime, or “nocturnal,” leg cramps are pains in the legs that occur most frequently when you are lying in bed at night. They can happen to both men and women but mostly occur in people over the age of 50. Painful cramps occur when the leg muscles tighten for between several seconds and several minutes, and the pain is often localized to the calf muscles, thighs, or feet.

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Illustration – Shutterstock | fizkes

Now that we’re clear on what they are, what causes nighttime leg cramps? Well, we certainly know the triggers. Sitting still for long periods of time, or conversely, overexerting the muscles, can cause cramping later in the day. TipHero suggests that standing or working on concrete floors and sitting with poor posture may also contribute.

You might also experience leg cramps if you have a pre-existing medical condition such as alcoholism, chronic dehydration, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or a neuromuscular disorder. Also, nighttime cramps are quite common for pregnant women.

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Illustration – Shutterstock | Sorajack Mongkolsri

So, you’re experiencing nighttime leg cramps; what can you do? The pain of leg cramping may well leave you immobilized, but acting immediately will diffuse the pain and residual soreness more quickly. And we all know what that means: better sleep.

Try these five techniques for relieving leg cramps:

1. Extend both legs on the floor in front of you. Flex your feet at the ankles and draw your toes toward your knees. Deepen the stretch by pulling your feet gently further toward you; use a scarf or towel if you have difficulty touching your toes.

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Illustration – Shutterstock | Dusan Petkovic

2. Get up and take a gentle walk around the bedroom, shaking your legs as you go.

3. Massage the painful area, rubbing in firm circles with your thumbs to increase blood circulation.

4. Loosen blankets and bedsheets to ensure that your legs are not compressed.

5. Take a tablespoon of yellow mustard. This one may sound a little “out there,” but it does seem to work! Mustard contains acetic acid, which prompts the body to produce more acetylcholine, the chemical that motor neurons release in order to activate (de-cramp) the muscles.

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Illustration – Shutterstock | kostrez

But we all know the old adage “prevention is better than a cure.” How can you prevent nighttime leg cramps? Try any number of these five easy rituals and see if you can banish painful cramping for good.

1. Enjoy a warm bath before bed, or apply a heat pack to problem areas before you go to sleep.

2. Perform some gentle stretching exercises so that your muscles can relax between the sheets.

3. Go swimming or join an aqua aerobics class a couple of evenings a week to promote strength in your leg muscles.

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Illustration – Shutterstock | RTimages

4. Avoid wearing high heels during the daytime.

5. Consider using a supplement containing horse chestnut seed or leaf. It can help increase blood flow to the legs.

No list of health hacks would be complete without a sensible disclaimer, however: If all else fails, or symptoms persist, see your doctor. If you are so inclined, they may even be able to refer you to alternative therapists such as an acupuncturist. But with consideration, self care, and this handy how-to guide, it may not come to that.

Sleep easy, and make nighttime leg cramps a thing of the past!

Louise Bevan
Louise Bevan
Louise Bevan is a writer, born and raised in London, England. She covers inspiring news and human interest stories.