Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Night cramps can be caused by many different things. Poor circulation, nerve injury, side effects of some prescription medication or linked to certain medical conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease. However, for most of us, it’s not linked to anything serious and can be from one or a combination of small things. It is really difficult to isolate the main cause, but if an assessment shows no specific problem, then these small changes can be useful to implement and decrease the risks of night cramps.
1. Tight calf muscles
For many of us, our calf muscles can feel tight or sore from overuse, weakness, spending long hours in static positions, poor footwear or lack of movement.
Try stretching your calf muscle every day, twice a day. One time during the day and the other before bed. 2 x 30 seconds on each leg each time you do it.
When sitting at your desk try pumping your ankles up and down. Or alternate between tapping your toes and your heels.
Avoid sitting for too long in one position. Think of the 30/30 rule to start off with. Every 30 minutes try getting up from your chair and moving for 30 seconds. Encourage all your work colleges to do it too!
An average adult can lose around 800ml of water through breathing and sweat, and this does not include increased sweating and breathing due to heat or exercise, or urinating. Within this includes many important substances such as sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Our water loss can increase further if we consume foods/drinks which are diuretics. Diuretics are substances that help remove water out of the body through an increase in urinary output. There are many prescription medications that can cause this to happen (intentionally or a side effect), but there are also many natural diuretics. These include coffee and tea (due to caffeine) and alcohol.
Although tea and coffee are mostly water, you lose a large portion of this via its diuretic effect, so only retain a small amount (which is not enough). Higher concentration alcoholic drinks will likely make you lose more water than you take in.
Avoid dehydration by consuming water on a regular basis throughout the day. The amount of water we actually need depends on many things including our sex, weight, age, activity levels, amount of exercise, temperature of our surroundings, type of medications we take and types of foods we eat. Drinking only when we are parched means we are leaving it too late. Our urine colour can be a good indicator of our hydration level: nice and clear like lemonade means you’re more hydrated whilst a dark apple juice means you need to drink more (pigments and substances in certain foods and prescription medication can sometimes cause small changes in urine colour too).
Keep a bottle of water with you and sip throughout the day. Sometimes if you’re peckish soon after eating, if could be that you’re just thirsty and your brain is confusing the signals.
Try avoiding your tea/coffee in the late afternoons and evenings, keeping them towards the beginning of the day.
When we undergo long bouts of intense exercise (think marathons) and sweat heavily, we can lose water weight and electrolytes, including sodium. In these cases, we would need to ensure we replenish these as not doing so can lead to serious problems. However, in our everyday lives we are unlikely to deplete our sodium stores. The problem can actually be too much sodiumin our diets, which can cause an imbalance in our electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium). This imbalance could cause problems in our muscle contractions and cause cramps.
Try to reduce the amount of processed foods you eat, as they can be very high in sodium. Look at labels to see how much sodium they contain as everyday items including cheese, picked foods, smoked meats and olives can contain large amounts of sodium. The government recommends that a healthy adult consumes no more than 6 grams of salt a day, which is 2.4 grams of sodium (be aware that some labels give you the quantity of sodium alone, or of total salt). If you want to season your food, use natural sources such as rock or sea salt, and always taste your food before you do as you may not require as much as you think.
Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium
Sometimes having low amounts of one or more of these minerals in your diet can be a cause of night cramps. Eating a diet that is varied, colourful and fresh should give you plenty of vitamins and minerals. However, sometimes we may be missing some vital nutrients that are easy to restore. Below we’ve listed some great foods that can be added into a varied diet that boast high levels of the listed nutrients. Foods that contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals are numerous, so we’ve selected only a handful of easily obtained, easy to prepare and tasty favourites. Most of these are fruits and veg which are essential in a balanced diet. These foods are the best when combined with a whole host of other foods, so you need to eat well overall.
Please be aware that this is general information and not specific to one person. This is not intended as a replacement of medical advice. If you want individual analysis, guidance and advice, please speak to a nutritional advisor.
You can’t skip past potassium without mentioning bananas. They are also a great source of fibre, magnesium, vitamins C and B6 and manganese. They’re great to have as a snack, or even chopped and added to your morning breakfast bowl.
Avocados can be a great source of potassium, plus they boast a high amount of vitamin K which is great for blood clotting and bone health. As well as vitamin E, they’re high in vitamins B5 and B6. They’re easy to smash onto a piece of wholemeal bread, or add it to your salad for great flavour whilst including some amazing natural fats.
Sweet potato accounts as one of your five a day as opposed to the normal variety and is jam-packed with nutrients. A portion of it gives you more than 100% of your RDA of vitamin A, whilst giving you plenty of potassium, manganese, vitamin C and thiamin (B1). Roasting one of these brings out great flavour and makes the skin crispy, which is full of gut-loving fibre.
Other good sources of potassium include: salmon, leafy greens, mushrooms, spinach, heart of palms, butternut squash and watermelon.
Nuts such as almonds and cashews are great sources of natural fats, fibre and a host of vitamins and minerals. Almondsnot only contain magnesium, manganese and phosphorus, but also are high in vitamins E and Biotin (B7). Cashews are higher in fat, but also pack a punch with high levels of magnesium, copper, phosphorus and thiamine (B1). Putting a small handful of mixed nuts in a pot and taking them to work as a snack is great way of staving off temptations for sweet treats. Also, a small pot means you don’t overeat nuts. Whilst they are incredibly nutrient dense, they are also calorie dense so you only need a small amount. Also, be careful with heavily salted nuts which can drive up your sodium intake.
Quinoa is not only difficult to pronounce, it’s also a seed that was once worshipped by the Aztecs. It has been banded around as a superfood, and there are reasons for that. Another great source of magnesium and manganese, it contains high levels of phosphorus, copper, iron and folate (B9). Used as an alternative to rice or pasta, this seed is very low in fat and a great source of protein. Although it is great when just cooked, it can be cooled and added into your salads.
A favourite of the bean world are black beans, which are very low in fat and an amazing source of protein and fibre. They contain good amounts of both potassium and magnesium, but contain even higher levels of folate (B9), thiamin (B1), iron, phosphorus and copper. They can be added to stews, soups, salads, tacos or wraps. For the dried ones they need to be soaked overnight, or use tinned black beans which are already cooked and ready to go.
It’s also interesting to know that low levels of magnesium can also increase potassium excretion from the body. That shows that you need to obtain sufficient levels of all vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet.
Other good sources of magnesium include: seeds (including flax, pumpkin, chia), mackerel, salmon, brown rice, dark chocolate and spinach.
Everyone knows that eating plenty of leafy greens is good for you and unfortunately most of us don’t eat enough of them. But many people also don’t know that greens such as collard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli and bok choy are very high in calcium. Lightly steamed as a side, in a stir fry with noodles or in a soup, these foods are a must-have in your fridge.
Seeds are good sources of nutrients and natural essential fats and make a great snack full of fibre. Sesame seedsand chia seedsboth contain an array of vitamins and minerals and are high in calcium. Sesame seeds can easily be sprinkled in your salads or used in stir fries, as well as the paste (tahini) used in dressings, sauces and used when making hummus. Chia seeds are versatile and can be added to your smoothies or added to your baking. Put some chia seeds in a jar with almond milk, cocoa powder, maple syrup, cinnamon and some sea salt and leave overnight. This will give you a creamy chocolate chia pudding for breakfast which can then be topped off with some chopped nuts, berries or oats.
Other good sources of calcium include: sardines, tofu, hard cheeses and beans.
It's all about trial and error: try these tips one by one, and monitor the frequency and severity of your cramps. Hopefully these can be easy to implement and decrease the risks of your night cramps. If you have further queries don't hesitate to email Mani at firstname.lastname@example.org