Winter is clearly upon us, and with the falling temperatures, many folks are coming in complaining of leg cramps at night. You know the kind: they wake you out of a blissfully deep sleep, causing you to leap to your feet to stretch a painfully tight calf or hamstring. If that’s not bad enough, the jolt that they give you keeps you lying awake, unable to fall back asleep and rest. So why don’t you get them as much in the summer? To get to the bottom of this, I called on Adult Medicine Physician Danny Felty. Assuming there is not an under-lying medical condition, Dr. Felty pointed to a couple of differences between what we do in the warmer months versus the winter months:
- In the warmer months, we drink more—of everything. Warmer temps are more likely to make us think of staying hydrated. We keep cold water—or something around most of the time. In the winter, we don’t think about drinking so much, so we just…don’t.
- Most of us grossly overestimate our activity levels. Sure, we still miss the occasional workout in the warm months, but in the winter, we’re not on the golf course, walking around the neighborhood, or tinkering in the garden. A missed workout in the winter is missed much more by our bodies than it might be in warmer weather.
By now you probably know where this is going, right? But before you skip to the solutions, Dr. Felty also implores you to first call your doctor and tell her about your leg cramps. Although there could be some easy ways to mitigate “plain old leg cramps,” sometimes leg cramps are caused by medications you take, something being off in your blood-work, or even a circulation problem. Once all of this is ruled out, try these 3 tips:
- Drink more. Water is preferable, but teas and juices count too. Be careful of too much caffeine as it will further dehydrate you and put you right back where you started.
- Move more. If you usually walk outside in the warm months, but don’t belong to a gym or own a treadmill, go to a mall or a supermarket—try to get some walking in every day. Move around the home more. As you’re able, get up and down from the floor, get up from your chair, desk or sofa at least once an hour to move around the room and take a break from sitting. Be conscious of how much activity you really get in a day.
- Stretch! Right before bedtime—don’t worry about it keeping you awake; it won’t. The two most useful stretches to thwart leg cramps are calf stretches and hamstring stretches. Hold each for 30 seconds per side. I’ve included images below to remind you how.
That’s it! Assuming there’s nothing else causing your leg cramps, employing these 3 tips should help you conquer them and once again enjoy a good –and restful—night’s sleep. In health, –Amanda