Night cramps or what is commonly referred to as a “Charley horse” can really be painful not to mention uncomfortable. And, will definitely wake up out of peaceful sleep.
One of the major causes of muscle cramping is the lack of proper hydration – not drinking enough water!
Dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalances in key minerals – sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Electrolyte imbalances and muscle fatigue are the two main causes of muscle spasms and cramps.
Does Lack of Sodium Cause Night Cramps?
The number one food source of sodium is salt which contains sodium and chloride.
Sodium is a key electrolyte and plays a major role in keeping our minerals, most notably magnesium and potassium in balance. And, helps to prevent dehydration which can lead to deficiencies in these key minerals.
We don’t often think about deficiency in sodium as the typical American diet is so high in salt, especially from processed foods. And, we are told to avoid salt as it may increase our blood pressure and excessive water retention.
But a salt deficiency can occur with excessive sweating without proper hydration during a workout or replenishing sodium with an electrolyte beverage.
It can also occur if we change our diet from processed foods to a whole foods diet like the metabolic balance plan. At the same time avoiding using salt in our cooking. Remember to use high-quality iodized sea salt in your cooking to flavor your food and avoid a deficiency.
Can Deficiencies in Magnesium Cause Night Cramps?
Deficiencies in magnesium are often blamed for muscle cramps especially at night. Magnesium deficiency is very common with 65% of Americans deficient in magnesium, as noted in my blog, Diva of Nutrients.
One of the reasons for magnesium deficiencies is the fact that we do not consume enough foods that are high in magnesium – green leafy vegetables and nuts.
Or, we have digestive issues such as low stomach acid, which can prevent us from properly absorbing magnesium from our food.
Can Lack of Potassium Cause Night Cramps
It is very uncommon to have a potassium deficiency as it is very abundant in our food. Foods high in potassium are celery, bananas, potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.
However, if you get dehydrated this can lead to a deficiency as potassium will “leak” out of the cell. Make sure to stay hydrated to avoid potassium loss especially after a workout.
How to Determine if it is Lack of Potassium or Magnesium
When and where cramps occur will tell you what mineral you are deficient in.
- Ever get cramp in when you are warming up and just started exercising – magnesium deficiency.
- Cramping during the end of exercise or right after exercise is usually caused by a potassium deficiency.
- Toe Cramps or leg cramps at night – magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium is the usual cause of these cramps. To avoid cramps at night make sure to eat foods rich in magnesium. And, avoid stomach acid-lowering medication like Prilosec. Want to learn more about magnesium and why the average American is deficient in these important minerals, see my blog on magnesium.
Should You Supplement with Potassium & Magnesium?
First supplementing with potassium is usually not recommended unless it is a low dosage say in a multiple/mineral supplement or in a sports drink.
Why? Because too much potassium can be lethal as it can disturb the electrical rhythm of the heart. Potassium is very readily absorbed as every cell in the body needs potassium so by drinking an electrolyte beverage during exercise or after would be the best to avoid muscle cramps.
Magnesium on the other hand – you can supplement but it is recommended not to go over 300 mg per day without a functional nutritional assessment.
Eileen Schutte, MS, CN, FMN – One of my biggest passions is to help clients reach their health goals whether that is weight loss, overcoming hormonal imbalances or digestive conditions. My other passion is nutrigenomics, speaking to your genes through nutrition and providing a truly personalized nutrition approach. I hold a master's degree in functional nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut graduating Summa Cum Laude. After completing my masters I went on to get my certification in functional nutrition medicine, and am a Certified LEAP Therapist (food sensitivities program) and a metabolic balance coach.