bars of soap, nocturnal leg cramps

Nocturnal leg cramps really get in the way of a good night’s sleep. You might be sound asleep, possibly even dreaming, and bam! You wake up with a horrible charlie horse or, even worse, an iron-hard muscle contraction in your thigh or hamstring muscle. Then you have no chance of getting back to sleep until you can get the muscle to relax by stretching or massaging it. Perhaps you’ll need to hobble to the kitchen to swallow a spoonful of yellow mustard or dill pickle juice. That’s why we love soap in bed to keep those leg muscles from cramping in the first place.

Soap to Ease Nocturnal Leg Cramps:

Q. I recently heard from my vascular physician about using a bar of soap in between the sheets to alleviate nocturnal leg cramps.

Curious, I began charting the frequency of my leg cramps since I started using the bed soap. Now they are down to zero, as I have not had any leg cramps for the last three months. I am amazed. However, I just read I need to change the soap once the scent fades.

I am now a happy and well-rested woman who does not get up in the middle of the night because of extreme muscle cramping. Whatever it is, even if mind over matter, this method has worked for me.

How Could Soap Work Against Nocturnal Leg Cramps?

A. Thank you for sharing this story. We have been writing about putting soap under the bottom sheet for more than a decade. Hearing that a physician is recommending this home remedy is gratifying.

Actually, we do not think this is a placebo effect, though many people believe that is the explanation. A physician actually tested a skin patch containing soap scented oil to ease muscular spasms, menstrual cramps and the pain of fibromyalgia (Ough et al, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July, 2008; Ough, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sept. 1, 2008). He got good results.

This physician hypothesized that soap scent had a biological effect. We agree, and have a possible explanation. Limonene is a common fragrance in soap. Scientists report that it may inhibit pain by activating special TRPA1 channels (Kaimoto et al, European Journal of Pain, Aug. 2016). Gradually, other scientists are beginning to consider the analgesic effects of herbal essential oils (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Dec. 9, 2017).

Even if this explanation is incorrect, a bar of soap under the bottom sheet seems like a safe solution for a painful problem. We offer other possible remedies for nocturnal leg cramps in our Guide to Leg Pain.

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  1. Orbiter

    I have been plagued with leg cramps at night in my calves, soles of my feet, and even my Adductor muscles for years. I saw the soap trick on this website after hearing about mustard as a remedy, but I dislike mustard. My wife handed me a bar of Dial and a bar of Dove soap to use. Bless her heart, they worked the first night. I literally have not had a cramp since I started using them four months ago. I keep them between the sheets near my legs. Do they bother me? Quite the contrary. If I sense them having gotten kicked a distance away in our king size bed, or possibly, god forbid, to the floor, I go on a leg search and scoop them back into proximity. The only flirt I’ve had with leg cramps since is when I occasionally throw one leg outside of the covers and away from the soap. Eventually I will feel a twinge and wake just enough to return. I usually cycle a new bar of soap into bed and use an old one in the shower as the shower soap needs replacing. I have told fellow sufferers about the soap idea, and they are now believers. I don’t care if it’s medical science, placebo effect, or voodoo black magic. It works!
    Enjoy your show very much. Thanks for all you do!

  2. Nancy
    United Kingdom

    I am waiting to have a hip replacement operation on my right hip. Over the years I have tried putting soap under the bed sheet but it doesn’t work for me, possibly because I’m a restless sleeper. Anyway, one night a couple of years ago I woke up with my right foot and calf completely locked and the only thing that I could think to do was rub both foot and calf with the bar of soap on the bathroom sink. Within a couple of minutes the cramp had gone. I have continued to do this whenever I have a sore/strained muscle such as in the upper arm. At the moment, I have dreadful muscle pain in my right thigh which runs down through the knee and calf then back up and settles in the groin. I now rub damp soap over my thigh, knee and calf and, what a blessing, the pain goes away. This means that I’ve been able to reduce the painkillers that I take. If you have any pain please try the soap therapy. It is harmless and cheap, which cannot always be said of OTC or prescribed medicines.

  3. Debbie
    McKinney, Texas

    When I first heard this I thought it was the ridiculous!!! But then my cramps were so bad I thought I had nothing to lose to try. And other things like mustard and pickle juice are
    just NOT fun!!!! Well the soap works GREAT for me. It is amazing!!!! I put it in a little cloth bag and keep it close to my feet. I never worry about what kind it is or how old it is. It always works!!! A lifesaver from terrible pain in the middle of the night. Thank you, whoever found out this worked!!!

  4. Marie

    This topic has shown up so many times. Can we give it a rest and move onto something new?

  5. Swantje
    Baton Rouge,La

    If I drink alcohol, I have to be prepared for night leg-crampsfor sure. But even without,it occasionally happens. Sometimes the soap helps, but I have to scoot it to exactly the pain area. Also have only used natural goat-milk soap. I will try other soaps and also will have one ready for sniffing. Thanks a bunch for all the feedback.

  6. Barbara A Larabee

    I have written in before about the soap between the sheets, and I have found that plain soap (unscented) works fine. I did use scented soap and decided not to spend the extra money. I did find that with both types of soap they start to diminish or lose their potency so I would use a potato peeler and shave the soap on both sides, put back between the sheets, and they begin to work again. I have been doing this since I first read this on People’s Pharmacy. I used to get cramps every night, sometimes in both legs at the same time.

  7. Ron
    Cypress, Tx

    We use flannel sheets, which are thicker than standard sheets. Will I need to use more bars? Has this been a problem for anyone?

  8. Joyce
    Carmel, IN

    Have used soap under the bottom sheet as well as a bar under the pillow for wherever there is pain:) Yardley Lavender is my favorite, but have used many kinds over the years, even Motel soaps. I don’t buy new bars when they begin to harden. I shave the bars with a scissor blade to renew them. Have no clue why it works but am so grateful it does!! Have shared this hint, learned through the PP column in the paper, many times! To all who don’t believe it works, try it next time you are jumping around trying to get rid of a painful cramp:)

  9. Abi

    Any idea if this would work for carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists and fingers? Going to try it anyway tonight…

  10. Mel Zuck
    Greensboro, NC

    Years ago, when I first heard the word from you, I began the practice of keeping soap under the bottom bed sheet. I am consistently without leg cramps since that dare. At age 97 I am still cramp free.

  11. Lou
    San Antonio

    Many years ago, in this forum, I read about putting a bar of soap in a sock and place under the leg where the cramping occurred. I’ve done this and it works. I seldom change the soap so I don’t know whether or not it is the scent that works.

  12. nina

    I would get leg cramps when I sleep-since my feet are always cold I wear socks so I started putting a small piece of soap in my socks-and I never got a cramp again.

  13. Karen

    I called my sister, a super nurse, and asked jokingly, what do you think about putting soap under your sheets,ha ha. I don’t know, she said, but I have three bars under mine.

    It works so who cares how.

  14. Sheila
    portland, or.

    I used soap under my sheets years ago didn’t help me. Yellow mustard helps.

  15. NF

    All I can say is, it works for me. I am an 80 year old male. D Thomas

  16. Heidi G.

    This more of a specific question: Where do you place this bar of soap? I know it suggests under the bed sheet …but where specifically do you place it under the bed sheet? It would seem uncomfortable if one was to lie upon this block of soap. If it is the scent from the soap … do you place it near your head (or somewhere around that head area). Thank you!

    • Terry Graedon

      We find that putting it near the legs or feet works well.

  17. diane

    I thought the soap idea was just plain crazy. One night after several nights of horrific leg muscle cramping, I decided crazy or not I would try it. I keep the fragrant soap under the pillow and if it’s a placebo it’s an excellent one! If I feel a cramp coming on I take the soap and inhale deeply, cramp subsides within minutes! I couldn’t believe the relief at first but after several bouts of cramping, the soap has never failed to completely eliminate the pain. Thank you so much for this info and I hope others will try it.

  18. Barbara E.

    I have tried the soap under the sheet method but am an all over the bed sleeper so it didn ‘t work for me. So I tried another avenue. Because it is thought that it is the perfume in the soap I starting spraying perfume on the cramp area and Bingo it worked. I spray the soles of my feet before I go to sleep and if I forget I just spray the area when a cramp occurs.

  19. MimiB

    I was inclined to dismiss this phenomenon, until I tried it. I started to develop night leg cramps that disturbed my sleep. Getting up and walking around a bit alleviated discomfort, but obviously, woke me up, and it was difficult to get back to sleep. I decided to try a bar of soap between the sheets after reading about this odd treatment. I didn’t know it was working until I woke up rested, after dawn, realizing I’d slept the night through. I continued to use the soap subsequent nights, and my sleep continued to be undisturbed. I’m a believer.

  20. Sherrie D.

    I’d like to know what soap most folks use. I usually use Ivory but would like to know if a more scented soap works better. I have noticed a difference in leg cramps since I’ve been putting soap under the sheet. Also, how often should you change the soap? I saw the post where it should be changed when the scent leaves. Is that the rule? I’m pretty sure I don’t change it enough.

  21. Cindy
    northern California

    I keep a bar of soap in a zip baggie by my easy chair and a couple by the head of my bed. If my arthritic hand aches a bit after a long day I hold the bar in my hand. Possibly it takes 2 minutes. I can put it away, and the pain doesn’t come back that day. If my shoulder aches I lay the bar of soap under my blouse at my shoulder joint. Two minutes usually does the trick. It really does work. If I can’t seem to settle at night but don’t have restless legs I toss a bar of soap alongside me. I can’t swear it helps me but I find myself missing it when I don’t do it.

  22. Jan

    Although I do not have leg cramps, I suffer calf muscle pain from a long period of taking statin drugs to lower my LDL. I was told to try a bar of soap with magnesium. You really have to read your labels, as most bar soaps have so many different ingredients. It seemed to help, but then stopped. Dr. is still wanting me back on statins, but I opted no. Now I have found that taking hot baths with Epson salts, about a cupful, and just soaking them is so relaxing and relieving my aching leg muscles. Can’t explain, but it does work.

  23. Anne

    Is there a way of knowing how old a bar of soap is? Since it’s recommended that the soap be changed after a certain amount of time, I’m guessing the fragrance wears off. It didn’t work for me, but maybe my bar of soap was too old?

  24. sidonia
    fayetteville fort bragg, north carolina

    For a long time I purchased and used 2 bars of plain unwrapped soap beneath our bottom mattress covers and sheets. I think it helped. The bars lost their softness, and I mean to buy new bars and resume this practice. An 82 year-old German herb grower suggested that there is some lye in the soap, which drew out the pain in the human bone. Thank you both for your work and your good humor in light of the Doubting Thomases.

  25. Mary Ellen
    Garner NC

    I am fairly tall, and the lumpy bar under the sheet kept getting kicked to the edge of the bed and falling between the sheet and mattress at the foot of the bed. I put it under my pillow, and if I get a cramp I just hold the bar in my hand, and the cramp is gone in a matter of seconds!

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