Why Do We Get Calf Cramps At Night?

calf cramps at nightNothing makes me happier than saying “I don’t know.” Because that is usually followed by some research and some information so that the next time I am asked about whatever it was I didn’t know, I would have a reasonable answer. And it is very rare that such a scenario doesn’t play out.

But there didn’t seem to be any definitive answer to the question “why do I get calf cramps at night?”

My nephew came over for dinner the other night and was telling me how he occasionally gets calf cramps at night. I vaguely knew about the problem of calf cramps at night—it happened to me twice about twenty years ago— and that there wasn’t much out there by way of explanation.

So after he left I sat down with my friend Google and learned that there wasn’t much to be learned—Lots of theories but very little by way of explanation. Pregnant women tend to get them more than most. Body builders are highly susceptible and there are numerous weight lifting forums on the topic. But ordinary Joe’s got them as well and as often. Aside from sleeping there is a bunch of literature on runners getting cramps due to electrolyte imbalance and I’ll return to this a bit later.

Calf cramps at night are the real deal. They are extremely painful contractions of the calf muscles. They don’t always release easily with the muscle often remaining cramped and contracted. Touching them feels like you are handling a rock.

Here are some of the numerous thoughts that the internet shared on the matter. As simply a matter of physicality cramping can happen during sleep because of an exaggeration of a normal muscle reflex. Tossing and turning while asleep, you can stimulate nerve stretch receptors in the tendon, telling the calf muscles to contract.

Diet seems to be the most common shot in the dark/explanation that I read about with dehydration being a close second. In terms of diet potassium deficiency was high on the list. But a quick review of the many forums on the topic had numerous sufferers that both drank plenty of fluids and ate more than their share of bananas.

Among the many mysteries of life you wouldn’t think that calf cramps at night would be an elusive one.

There is a solution if you want to dive deep into folk remedies but by all accounts it is a solution that works. Put a bar of dial soap under the sheets of your bed. And if after a few months the cramps return, replace the first bar with a new one which seemed to work for most people who tried it.


Keeping in mind that I found nothing definitive in terms of reasons or solutions for calf cramps at night I headed out yesterday morning to teach, not thinking that students would provide me with the answers. In the beginning of class, as I do at the start of many of my classes, I walked around standing people up in my version of good posture throwing around my usual rap.

“You won’t necessarily believe me but try to feel what your body is doing as I shift your posture. It should be confusing as I often think my job is to confuse people.”

From that cue I started talking about the futile search for an explanation about calf cramps at night. When I mentioned the bar of soap someone piped up “ph”, and upon further questioning said the bar of soap made perfect sense because it created a ph balanced environment under the sheets that would help keep the muscles from cramping.

After class another student had two interesting things to say. One was that she found lemon water to be helpful, which is a ph balancing act. I drink lemon water every morning at the suggestion of my Chinese medicine doctor. He is always trying to balance my ph levels. And she also reported that when she lived in a mold-infested house, her whole family got calf cramps at night. There was nothing about this in anything I read online.

As a result I feel less confused. I now have a reasonably good idea why calf cramps at night happen. A ph imbalance coupled with naturally tight muscles can make your muscles cramp at night and trying to balance your ph with either a bar of soap or by drinking lemon water is as likely or more likely to take care of the problem than anything else. It also makes sense that just straight water without an emphasis on balancing ph levels might not help with calf cramps at night.


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