As we age, there are usually a lot of issues that prevent us from having a good sleep. Often, arthritis related aches, or respiratory diseases with breathing difficulties, heat, cold, etc. are the culprits. You may also have heard about the restless leg syndrome that troubles many people from having a good sleep. Urinary incontinence may also be an issue, apart from the usual stress, or anxiety as well. However, one other common issue found in senior citizens is nocturnal leg cramps.
Many older people ignore it as just another pain that is part of aging, and may not relate it as nocturnal leg cramps. While restless leg syndrome manifests as a restless feeling in the legs that prompts you to keep moving your legs and thus disturbs your sleep, the nocturnal leg cramps are slightly different.
What is it?
Here, you feel pain and cramps in the legs, and it is not similar to the restless leg syndrome. It occurs during the night, and can sometimes wake you from your sleep. At times, you may lie awake without sleep because of this pain and cramping in legs. It needs to be attended to by stretching the legs. This can be quite painful, as the muscles in the leg feel cramped, and this is quite common in people above 50.
Causes and Diagnosis
The reasons for nocturnal leg cramps are many as listed below.
- Improper or long periods of sitting
- Overexertion of the muscles
- Standing or working on concrete floors
- Certain medical conditions and medications like, alcoholism, dehydration, Parkinson’s disease, neuromuscular disorders, any structural or endocrine disorders, and diuretics, statins, beta agonists.
Hence, depending on the health, one may link the cause, or on having a lot of issues because of the nocturnal leg cramps, should also visit a doctor and take necessary help to relieve the symptoms. The doctor may also conduct a few tests to determine the underlying cause so that it can be treated. Possibly, the doctor may prescribe some Vitamin, Calcium or Magnesium supplements, to try and relieve the reasons that lead to the cramps.
Note: It is quite possible that the leg cramps you are having are not nocturnal leg cramps, and maybe some other issue that needs medical attention. Hence, it is important that if it persists and is disturbing your sleep severely, one needs to consult a doctor just to make sure that it is not something else more serious and also to get help to relieve the pain.
Managing the cramps
When you feel the cramps, you should immediately stretch the legs as much as possible, to try and get relief. Stretching is highly effective, while you may also walk around, or massage your leg as well, to get some relief. Sometimes, taking hot showers, or applying ice packs also help in relieving the pain. You could try out what works best for you and continue the same, for getting relief from the cramps.
While it may not be possible to eliminate all causes that lead t the nocturnal cramps fully, one can certainly avoid certain things that can trigger the same. A few things that can be taken care of are:
- Staying hydrated— Ensuring that one drinks six to eight glasses of water each day, especially in summer can really help reduce the occurrence of cramps.
- Gentle stretching of the leg muscles before going to sleep can also help reduce the leg cramps.
- Always wear proper fitting shoes.
- If you have a stationary exercise bike, spend a few minutes on it before sleeping, so as the muscles will get some exercise.
- Always cover your feet comfortably with blankets so that they don’t feel smothered and can breathe.