What Causes Leg Cramps at Night? Here's How to Prevent a Charley Horse

Like iqtu's "You Cramp My Style" by electronic music artist James Zdrowski, a nighttime charley horse can get you up and dancing. But it's no fun. Theories abound about what causes these painful leg cramps at night and how to prevent them. Everything from quinine to medications such as anti-anxiety drugs, muscle relaxers, and vascular dilators are prescribed, but for most people, most of the time, four simple steps will prevent this late-night, foot-stamping samba.

Bothered by chronic pain? Get pain relief with these simple self-care techniques.

  1. Get plenty of vitamin D3, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Get tested for your blood levels of these and iron, too. Deficiencies are linked to leg cramps. From both food and supplements, aim for:
    • 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily. The best food sources for vitamin D are herring, salmon, sardines, and fortified soy milk.
    • 1,000 to 1,200 mg calcium citrate daily. The best food sources for calcium citrate are dark leafy greens, almonds, canned salmon, and sardines.
    • 400 to 500 mg magnesium. The best food sources for magnesium are pumpkin seeds, spinach, and almonds.
  2. Stretch before you go to sleep. Stand 18 to 30 inches from a wall. Place your palms at shoulder height against the wall, and lean in until you have a full stretch on the back of each calf. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat.
  3. Stay hydrated. Drink water all day long (a little at a time so you're never thirsty). Don't overdo it or you'll be waking up in the middle of the night -- not to stamp out cramps, but to pee. (Learn how what you eat helps you stay hydrated.)
  4. Try 900 mg of DHA omega-3 fatty acids. This is good for your brain and eyes, and to prevent leg cramps. You might also try 200 mg of omega-7 fatty acids, another type of healthy fat with great benefits.

RealAge Benefits

A physical activity program that builds stamina, strength, and flexibility can make your RealAge as much as 2.8 years younger.