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Soap Under the Sheet Can Prevent Nocturnal Leg Cramps

Placing a fresh bar of soap under the bottom sheet near where the legs will rest may prevent nocturnal leg cramps. Could limonene in the fragrance help explain this effect?

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.

Mom’s Advice on Soap Works Against Leg Cramps:

Q. Periodically, I get devastating leg cramps at night. My mom told me to put a bar of soap in the bed with me when I slept. It didn’t matter what kind or what size.

I thought this sounded crazy, but I tried it. Can you believe it worked? Now every time I feel cramps coming on, I sleep with my bar of soap. It stays in a box on my bedside table. Who would have known?

A. We first heard about this unconventional remedy nearly two decades ago. It has become a source of considerable debate. Many readers swear that a bar of soap under the bottom sheet near the legs works amazingly well to prevent nighttime cramps.

Others insist that any benefit is due to a placebo effect. However, some people have written to us about their clandestine experimentation. They have slipped soap under the sheet and their unsuspecting partners were relieved from the usual leg cramps.

For example, a woman wrote about her skeptical physician husband who did not know she had surreptitiously placed soap under the sheets. It worked wonders for his cramps, until one night the cramps returned. When his wife checked the next morning, she discovered that the soap had fallen on the floor.

You can learn more about this and many other inexpensive approaches in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

Preventing Nighttime Cramps With Soap Under the Sheet:

Q. After reading about the soap remedy in your newspaper column I decided to try it. That was more than three years ago. I wondered if it was working through the placebo effect, but I didn’t really care why it worked. It just worked!

It instantly removed my nocturnal leg cramps. I found that the soaps with the most perfume smell worked better than the more “pure” soaps.

I have told many people about this, including my primary care provider. Of course they look at me like I’m crazy but I can’t resist sharing helpful information.

A. We first heard about using soap under the bottom sheet to prevent leg cramps in 2004. Since then, a lot of people swear by it. Others claim it is worthless. We think the aroma has something to do with the way the soap works.

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). Perhaps this explains how it may prevent nocturnal leg cramps.

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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