What Causes Leg
Cramps at Night?
Leg cramps at night are common.
And it's important to make a distinction between leg cramps causes and other causes of leg pain at night.
Because there are several conditions that can cause leg pain at
- night leg cramps
- Use of statins for lowering cholesterol
- lower extremity arterial disease
So what causes leg cramps at night?
The cramp, or charley horse, is due to the muscle contracting
(shortening and tightening) in a sudden and violent way. These nocturnal
leg cramps usually occur in the calf muscle. But foot and leg cramps do
happen at night also. Cramps in the thighs are less common.
One main reason for the pain is because blood flow to the muscle
is restricted. Waste products also build up within the muscle tissue.
Here are nine conditions that may
cause muscles to contract
The underlying causes of leg cramps are unknown. However, here are nine possible suspects:
- Dehydration. Not staying hydrated with enough water
during the day may be one of the big causes of leg cramps at night. This
is most likely due to fluid imbalances of electrolytes (mainly sodium,
potassium, calcium, and magnesium).
- Overuse of the muscles, perhaps from exercising, gardening or other physical activities.
- Night leg cramps during pregnancy affect about 30% of
women. In the next article, I have a big caution regarding relief for
leg muscle cramps in pregnancy.
(You can see a link to that article at the bottom of this page.)
- Concrete. This sounds a little far fetched to me, but
I've read that standing on concrete for long periods of time can lead to
leg pain at night. When I was 17, I went to work in a steel factory. It
was tough, sweaty, physical labor. We all stood on concrete for eight
hours a day, day after day, working our tails off. I never remember any
of the men complaining about leg cramps, but then again, these guys were
tough dudes. Complaining was for cry babies.
- Prolonged standing. Maybe concrete isn't the real culprit and
this is. There's a good study that was published in August 2011. It
shows that prolonged standing at work is a risk factor for both varicose
veins and nocturnal leg cramps. If you have a job that keeps you
standing, try to find time and ways to sit down when you can. Break time
may be your only opportunity.
- Diabetes. Some leg cramps at night may indeed be a result of
diabetes. However, please note that just because you have occasional leg
pain at night from cramps does not mean you have diabetes.
Click here for more information about
a natural approach to balancing insulin and glucose levels
(link opens in a new window).
- Shoes that don't fit properly may be what causes leg cramps for some adults and children.
In fact, when it comes to what causes leg cramps in women, high heel shoes are something to consider.
- Kidney dialysis can be a cause of leg cramps at night.
- Medications, including diuretics for high blood pressure, oral contraceptives, and statins.
Important tip if you're taking
statins for cholesterol
One of the side effects of taking statins is muscle aches in the legs. Technically, these are not leg cramps.
However, if you take statins, you should be aware that studies show
that statin use lowers levels of the nutrient Coenzyme Q10 (abbreviated as CoQ10). A study in
the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that statins reduce CoQ10
levels by up to 40%!
This is very important because lower levels of CoQ10 may create pain or cramps in the leg
muscles. Like a lot of things in medicine, the studies are conflicting on this
I don’t take statins. However, I occasionally like to take CoQ10
for a heart boost.
I’ve been reading about this nutrient for years. And reading
The Coenzyme Q10 Phenomenon by clinical cardiologist Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D. several
years ago really peaked my interest.
This book, although several years old, is an excellent
overview of why CoQ10 is so important for many health conditions, especially heart health.
I got my copy from Amazon. If you’re interested, you can
read about it here.
Supplementing with a dose of 50 mg twice
daily of CoQ10 for 30 days may be beneficial to you if you are having muscle pain from
statins. Certainly something to discuss with your doctor.
Below I’ve provided a link in reference #5 you can click on
to see a good study on taking CoQ10 for muscle pain.
The point is, if you do take statins, you really need to
read up on the statin and CoQ10 connection. Going to pubmed.com can also give
you medical information on this topic.
Here’s something else to be aware of: There are a few
studies showing that 100 mg of CoQ10 taken in the evening may cause insomnia. That’s
why I always take my CoQ10 in the morning after breakfast. CoQ10 should always
be taken with meals.
Here is the CoQ10 I like to take because I’ve been a
vegetarian for forty years. There are all kinds of CoQ10 products on Amazon.
Poke around Amazon and find one you like.
Another thing to keep in mind: Some studies show that CoQ10
can lower blood pressure a little bit. So it’s a good idea to monitor your
blood pressure if you’re taking blood pressure medications.
Here's something else to consider
Amazon.com has a wide variety of products for leg cramps. Some
are creams, some are homeopathic pills.
In my article about homeopathic sleep aids,
I wrote about my skepticism of homeopathy. Yet, surprisingly, many people
find relief with this form of treatment.
So who am I to say? I do know leg cramps hurt like heck so
you may want to give these pills a try. Here's a link to one of the more
popular homeopathic leg cramps products on Amazon.
I do hope it helps you.
Three final things to note
- Don't confuse leg cramps at night with restless legs syndrome;
they are separate conditions. (See my articles below on restless leg
- Night leg cramps while sleeping are when they often occur. If
you frequently have severe leg cramps, either during the day or at
night, and nothing seems to ease the leg pain, this would be something
to take up with your doctor.
- If you suffer from insomnia and sleepless nights, whether because of leg muscle cramps, joint pain, or any other reason,
this may be the best natural sleep aid you'll ever try.
(Link opens a new browser window.) I like the science behind it.
I also like it because not only can adults take it, but children
12 years and older can too. That makes it an excellent natural sleep
supplement for teenagers.
I hate it when I get leg cramps at night in my legs or feet. So I hope the other articles I wrote below are helpful to you.
Here is my detailed series of articles on leg cramps. Plus, information on restless legs syndrome.
Nocturnal Leg Cramps: Can They Be Prevented?
Leg Pain at Night: 16 Lower Leg Cramps Treatment Options
Night Leg Cramps Treatments: 6 More Options
Stop Leg Cramps at Night! My Final Five Leg Cramp Relief Options
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
19 Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms
Return to Sleep Disorders Home Page
References for What Causes Leg Cramps at Night
- Evidence of plasma CoQ10-lowering effect by HMG-CoA reductase
inhibitors: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. 40% reduction in
CoQ10 levels. J Clin Pharmacol. 1993 Mar;33(3):226-9.
- Leg cramps. Clinical Evidence 2009;03:1113.
- Sleep: The Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders and a Better Night's Sleep. J. Paul Caldwell, MD
- Relationship between prolonged standing and symptoms of
varicose veins and nocturnal leg cramps among women and men. Ergonomics.
2011 Aug 17.
- Coenzyme Q10 Supplementation Decreases Statin-Related Mild-to-Moderate Muscle Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Study. Med Sci Monit. 2014; 20: 2183–2188.