Leg cramps which occur at night, also known as nocturnal leg cramps, are pains which occur overnight when the person sleeps.  These pains are a result of the prolonged hours of inactivity and can be so bad that the person is basically forced to wake up.  Even though the pain mostly occurs in the calf, the thighs and feet can be also affected.

It usually lasts for a couple of seconds to a few minutes.  Once the cramp goes away, the muscle soreness may remain for the next few hours or until the morning.  Nocturnal leg cramps affect both men and women and people over the age of 50 are most susceptible to this issue.

Leg Cramps at Night VS Restless Leg Syndrome

The only thing nocturnal leg cramps and restless leg syndrome have in common is the fact that they both occur during sleeping hours. However, there are many differences between them, including the following:

  • RLS causes the desire to move the legs, while nocturnal leg cramps often prevent movement.
  • Moving the leg in RLS offers relief – moving the leg in nocturnal leg cramps does not, instead of stretching is required.
  • RLS does not cause pain or cramping, while nocturnal leg cramps do.
  • RLS is more of a discomfort or crawling feeling in your legs.

Causes and Risk Factors of Leg Cramps at Night

Even though the real cause of nocturnal leg cramps is not fully understood, the potential causes and risk factors are already known.  Among them are:

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