Sleep is peaceful when suddenly, toes and calves contract.
The feet deform, cause sharp pain, and awakening.
This is what is called night cramps.
“The phenomenon is common”, immediately comments Philippe Beaulieu, doctor somnologist (1).
In fact, as we move during the night, it is quite normal for the leg muscles to contract.
“And sometimes the muscles can't relax, so that creates the pain,” continues the doctor.
In most cases, these cramps do not deserve alarm and are easily explained.
Some may thus be the result of an intense or unusual muscular effort that occurred the previous day.
"It happens that the muscle, contracted during the effort, does not recover in its initial state of relaxation, which can then cause cramps", specifies Philippe Beaulieu.
To avoid them, the doctor recommends warming up before sports and stretching afterwards.
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Hydration and nutrition
Sufficient hydration is also essential for the proper functioning of the body... and therefore for the good health of the muscles.
"If the latter are not sufficiently hydrated, they are dry and tense", explains Laurence Plumey, nutritionist (2).
To avoid damage, the doctor advises drinking eight glasses of water a day, the equivalent of one liter.
You can also supplement this hydration with other liquids, such as tea, herbal tea, milk, soup, etc., to absorb a total of 1.5 liters.
Likewise, it is important to stay well hydrated after sport since it promotes dehydration.
If the muscle needs to be hydrated, it also needs to be nourished correctly and to receive the nutrients essential to its functioning.
Calcium, potassium, magnesium... To meet your needs, make sure you consume enough dairy products (for calcium) and fruits and vegetables (for potassium).
Magnesium can be taken in the form of a one-month cure, at the rate of a 100mg stamp each morning, advises Dr. Laurence Plumey.
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Cramps can also result from an iron deficiency.
“When the body lacks it, the muscle is less well oxygenated and tenses up,” comments Alexandra Dalu, nutritionist (3).
Women, who are more prone to anemia due to menstruation each month, as well as vegans, can then do a blood test to check the ferritin level.
"When the person begins to be in pain, when the cramps occur regularly and there are consequences on his health or on his socio-professional life, it is then important to consult", underlines the doctor Alexandra Dalu.
And for good reason, these cramps can be a symptom of restless leg syndrome, for example.
"It's a real sleep disorder, just like sleepwalking or bruxism," continues the doctor.
Diabetes, hypothyroidism or even poor blood circulation can also be the cause of tension.
Finally, certain drugs such as diuretics "make the body lose potassium and in doing so, can cause cramps", adds Philippe Beaulieu.
To get back to sleep peacefully, you can make the cramp disappear by massaging the affected area.
“We massage the muscle in depth and stretch it to help it get back into a relaxed position, concludes Philippe Beaulieu.
You can also apply heat to the area.
(1) Philippe Beaulieu is a somnologist, cognitive-behavioral therapist and hypnotherapist.
(2) Laurence Plumey is a nutritionist and founder of EPM Nutrition, a school of NAPSO-therapy.
She is also the author of
Le grand livre de l'alimentation
, Eyrolles, 580 pages, €24.90.
(3) Alexandra Dalu is a nutritionist and co-author with Thierry Marx of
L'Assiette santé – Food, sport and well-being,
Flammarion, 256 pages, €19.90.