Most of the time, there's no known cause for night leg cramps. In general, they're likely the result of tired muscles and nerve problems.
The risk of having night leg cramps increases with age. Pregnant people also are more likely to have night leg cramps.
Kidney failure, diabetic nerve damage and problems with blood flow are known to cause night leg cramps. But if you have one of these conditions, you probably already know. And you likely have symptoms other than just night leg cramps.
People who take medicines that increase urine output might be more likely to have night leg cramps. But it's not known if there's a direct link.
Restless legs syndrome is sometimes confused with night leg cramps. But the conditions are different. The most common symptom of restless legs syndrome is the need to move the legs when falling asleep. Restless legs syndrome is usually not painful, and the symptoms last longer than do night leg cramps.
Other health issues that can sometimes be linked to night leg cramps include:
- Acute kidney failure
- Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency)
- Alcohol use disorder
- Anemia — a condition in which the body doesn't get oxygen due to a lack of healthy red blood cells.
- Chronic kidney disease
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Dehydration (when the body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to work as it should)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Lack of physical activity
- Medicines, such as those used to treat blood pressure problems and high cholesterol, and birth control pills
- Muscle fatigue
- Parkinson's disease
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Spinal stenosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
March 02, 2023
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- Winkelman JW. Nocturnal leg cramps. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- Parasomnias. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/parasomnias?query=parasomnias. Accessed Nov. 3, 2022.
- Delacour C, et al. Association between physical activity and nocturnal leg cramps in patients over 60 years old: A case-control study. Scientific Reports. 2020; doi:10.1038/s41598-020-59312-9.