Reclaim your rest and put nighttime cramps to bed

After a full day of activity, there is nothing more satisfying and well-deserved than a good night’s rest. Imagine that you’re comfortably tucked into bed and have just drifted off to sleep. The room is quiet and dark, your breathing is deep and your body is relaxed. Most importantly, your tired mind is at peace.

Suddenly, you’re struck by an intense pain creeping up your leg that jars you from your sleep. You throw the covers off and turn on the light to examine your calf. You feel that a muscle has contracted itself into a hard, tight knot. Still in the grips of the cramp, you limp out of bed. Attempting to end your agony, you massage the muscle and stretch and twist your body into various positions. After several minutes, your efforts release the cramp’s hold. However, the lingering discomfort and tenderness hardly make for a restful night. For many older adults, battling leg cramps is a nightly ritual they would prefer to do without.

More prone to cramps

While nocturnal leg cramps can occur at any age, they are more common and often more severe for older people. Up to 33% of people over age 50 experience chronic nocturnal leg cramps, according to a review published in BMC Family Practice. They typically occur in the calf muscles, although; they can occur in the thighs or feet. Research suggests that older people are more susceptible to nocturnal cramps due to aging nerves and weakening muscles. These changes cause problems in the way they interact when the brain signals movement and cause cramping. Age-related shortening of the tendons and certain medications and health conditions have also been linked to cramps. A review published in Age and Aging journal noted, “The medications most commonly linked to cramp development have been diuretics, statins and inhaled long-acting beta 2 agonists.” Some health conditions associated with cramps include diabetes, peripheral artery disease, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

What can you do?

There is no one medication specifically designed to cure nocturnal cramps. However, the good news is that there are options to help prevent or reduce cramping. Lifestyle changes such as staying adequately hydrated, getting regular exercise and following a stretching routine are recommended for the prevention of nocturnal cramps.

A study of people who used stretching to prevent cramping was described in the Age and Aging review: “Subjects were asked to stand 3 feet from a wall, leaning against it with arms outstretched and to gently tilt forward with the heels in contact with the floor until a non-painful stretch was felt in the calves; this procedure, held for 10 seconds, was repeated three times a day.” Before beginning any exercise or stretching routine, consult your physician.

If lifestyle changes do not bring you relief, you and your doctor should discuss available medical treatment approaches. Your doctor may work with you to treat a health condition behind your cramps, reduce or replace medications that may be linked to cramping or prescribe vitamin supplements or medicines.

Nocturnal cramps are a nuisance that can strike at any time and rob you of your rest. But, you don’t have to continue suffering sleepless nights. See your doctor about finding the right solution for you to reclaim your rest.