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Categories > Sleep Disorders > Getting a good night’s sleep

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Coping with nightly leg cramps

» Preventing the pain

» Stopping a cramp

Other sleep spoilers

Your healthcare provider can help ease these nighttime disturbances.

  • Periodic limb movements (PLM). In PLM, involuntary spasms cause the limbs to jerk about. Often, a person with PLM is unaware of the spasms and can’t figure out why she’s so tired during the day.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS). Usually, the only way people with RLS can shake the “crawly” sensation in their legs is by walking around. Unfortunately, RLS tends to get worse at night, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

It seems that ever since she turned 60, Angela’s bed has become a battleground. The problem isn’t insomnia—in fact, sleep comes pretty easily. And it’s not as if her husband’s snoring keeps her awake. Instead, she’s robbed of rest by painful leg cramps that, though lasting just a few seconds, strike throughout the night.

Known medically as benign nocturnal leg cramps, they’re hardly benign to the many who lose sleep over them (the syndrome affects as many as 70 percent of people over age 50). Even more frustrating is the lack of a medical answer to this painful problem.

Preventing the pain

You may be able to reduce the cramps’ frequency and severity by taking these steps:

  • Stretch your calves each night at bedtime. Stand two feet away from a wall. Keeping feet flat and placing your palms on the wall for support, lean forward. Hold for 15 seconds, return to starting position and repeat.
  • Loosen the covers. Tight bedsheets or blankets can cause you to point your toes, triggering a cramp.
  • Hang ten. Try sleeping on your stomach and letting your feet hang over the edge of the bed.
  • Cushion your feet. Prop your feet on a pillow at the end of the bed.

Stopping a cramp

If you do get a cramp, you can usually stop it quickly by flexing your foot toward your knees. Hold the position until you feel the cramp subside, then massage the muscles for a moment. You may also find it helpful to take 25–50 milligrams of over-the-counter Benadryl.

Finally, don’t let leg cramps deprive you of much needed sleep. If the problem persists, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she may prescribe a sleep aid.


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