At about 3 a.m. this morning it happened. As I slept I became dimly aware that something was going on – like when you sense, without being fully awake, that your spouse has left the bed to go to the bathroom. And then, a split-second later, my right calf was gripped by a full-blown cramp. Gah!
If you’ve never experienced a night-time leg cramp, I’m not sure I can adequately describe the sensation. One moment you are enjoying peaceful slumber in the darkness; the next your calf muscle is clenched hard as a fist and waves of pain are registering in your brain. It feels like someone is shredding your leg muscles with a cheese grater. You try stretching your leg and sometimes that will bring the pain down a notch, but mostly you just have to ride out the spasms. Hours later, your leg still aches.
What causes overnight leg cramps? The doctors aren’t quite sure. It might be too much exercise, or having flat feet, or being dehydrated, or sleeping in an awkward position — or it might be something else. How can you prevent them? That’s not clear, either. It may help to drink lots of water, or stretch before bed, or avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine (which seems like a big sacrifice). And if you get a cramp, you can try various methods to stop it, but mostly you just have to wait until it ends.
So leg cramps are random, unpredictable, and put you in the grip of forces beyond your puny efforts to control. Leg cramps are like life.