Nocturnal leg cramps are the painful cramping of muscles, usually the calf muscles, which commonly occurs during sleep. In some cases, night leg cramps may occur while the sufferer is in bed and between the sleep-wake stage. Nocturnal leg cramps are considered to be one of the parasomnia disorders that affect a person’s body functions when asleep.
Leg Cramps at Night while Sleeping
Muscle movement is triggered by electrical impulses sent through the nerves from the brain. These electrical impulses trigger a complex chemical exchange of electrolytes and trace elements that allow the muscle fibrils (minute elongated rods that make up the muscle fibers) to move together (muscle contraction). Usually in muscle movement, muscles contract and relax but in cramping, a portion of the muscle or entire muscle remains contracted. This muscle spasm can be felt at points in the muscle (trigger points) or the entire muscle feels hard and stiff.
Night leg cramping is seen predominantly in older women, during pregnancy and menopause or those suffering with peripheral vascular disease. However it can affect both genders of any age and any health status and the exact cause of leg cramps at night is unknown. The severity of these night leg cramps can cause mild discomfort to excruciating pain and often wakes the sufferer.
Symptoms of Leg & Foot Cramps at Night
- Painful muscle cramps usually affecting one leg (both legs can be affected)
- Mainly affects the calf muscles or small muscles of the feet
- Muscle twitching or ‘beating’
- Muscle feels hard and stiff to touch
- Burning ache of the affected area with prolonged muscle cramping
- Difficulty maintaining normal gait (walking and standing posture)
- Leg numbness and tingling after the muscle cramps ease.