01/26/2012 03:41 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2012

5 Tips For Battling Nocturnal Leg Cramps

Nocturnal leg cramps are a common sleep disorder affecting older adults and pregnant women. We spoke to Roxanne Valentino, M.D., medical director of the St. Thomas Center for Sleep in Nashville, Tennessee, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have nocturnal leg cramps, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Ed Condran

"Nighttime leg cramps generally strike in the calves," Dr. Valentino says. "The sleeper wakes with a painful muscle contraction." The pain often wakes the person from a sound sleep, and the cramp can last up to several minutes.

Rub The Muscle

"Rub the muscle to help it relax," Dr. Valentino advises. "As the cramp eases, stretch the calf muscle to reduce pain."

Get A Checkup

"It's important to address the underlying cause of leg cramps," Dr. Valentino says. "Low minerals, including a lack of potassium, can cause leg cramps. But there are other medical problems that need to be ruled out."

Try A Multi-Vitamin

"Unless your doctor advises you against it," Dr. Valentino says, "I encourage people to take a good multi-vitamin." This helps to keep the body's mineral levels in balance.

Go Bananas

"Eat a banana before bed," Dr. Valentino suggests. The fruit is high in potassium -- a lack of which could cause cramps. Valentino also advises drinking orange juice during the day.

Seek Help

If there is no underlying medical cause, and vitamins aren't working, it may be time to see a sleep specialist. "There are medications to treat leg cramps," Dr. Valentino assures.

Roxanne Valentino, M.D., earned her medical degree from the Ohio State University. She completed her residency at the Cleveland Clinic, followed by a fellowship there specializing in sleep medicine and neurophysiology. Dr. Valentino is certified in clinical neurophysiology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Have you ever suffered from a sleep disorder? What worked for you?