Magnesium As An Insomnia Cure
An insomniac knows exactly what practices to avoid: late afternoon lattes, heavy meals at night, evening cardio sessions, erratic schedules – even worry is a habit to avoid. More arcane, though, is a solid understanding of what ingredients are essential for a better night’s sleep. This is especially true when it comes to nutrition.
There’s a certain logic behind the warm glass of milk theory, and it’s instructive as a starting point for understanding the mechanisms of nutrients and sleep. That said, warm milk is not nature’s best remedy: hold the 1% and the steamer.
The strongest argument in favour of milk is that it contains trypotophan, a precursor to melatonin commonly associated with turkey dinners. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Its production is triggered by darkness, and as such it regulates our internal clocks. Milk’s calcium aids in the uptake of tryptophan, speeding relaxation. This is why calcium is often recommended for sleeplessness, often to the negligence of other essential minerals.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and it plays a central role in nervous system functioning, but it’s not alone.
CALCIUM HAS A COMPLEX AND SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH MAGNESIUM; THEIR INTERPLAY HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR INSOMNIA.
In the nervous system, magnesium and calcium perform reverse functions. Calcium’s role is to stimulate nerves, exciting adrenaline and contracting muscles, for example, while magnesium slows the nervous impulse, shuts down adrenaline responses and relaxes muscles. Together, these essential minerals regulate the central nervous system’s active and sedative states.
A human nutrition research project at the United States Department of Agriculture found that “a diet inadequate in magnesium caused changes in brain waves--electrical activity in the brain” when subjects were at rest. These findings build on a growing body of evidence pointing to magnesium deficiency as a cause of sleep disturbances, including agitated sleep and frequent waking. And that’s not all: magnesium, it seems, facilitates utilization of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
According to Darcy Sutherland, a Registered Nutritional Consultant Practitioner (RNCP) practicing in Toronto, “magnesium has, in recent years, taken a back seat to calcium. There’s been an emphasis on the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health, but taking these supplements on their own can throw off the body's balance.” Without magnesium, the signals to relax are impeded.
Those suffering from nocturnal muscle pain, spasms and headaches can appreciate the importance of winding down tension at night. Common leg cramps and even “restless leg syndrome”, characterized by jumpy, twitchy, overactive limbs can be treated by muscle and nerve-calming magnesium. The same goes for tension headaches, the result of a tightening of the muscles in the neck and scalp, and migraines, triggered by exaggerated firing of the nerves.
Typically, our diets are heavily skewed in favour of calcium. Not only do many of us privilege dairy products over magnesium-rich plant sources, but we also increasingly consume calcium-fortified products. As a result, the average North American consumes five to ten times more calcium than magnesium. More calcium, for most, is not the answer. Better absorption of calcium through an adequate supply of magnesium is a better solution.
What should the idea ratio of calcium to magnesium be? Carolyn Dean, Canadian MD and author of The Magnesium Miracle argues it should be one to one.
WHILE BONES REQUIRE TWO TIMES MORE CALCIUM THAN MAGNESIUM, THE HEART, BRAIN AND MUSCLES REQUIRE THESE MINERALS IN THE OPPOSITE PROPORTION.
To boost your daily intake, look to dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. A magnesium-rich meal can be whipped up with just a few simple ingredients. Try spinach salad with pumpkin seeds and avocado; toss a bulgur tabouli salad with chick peas; dip whole grain flatbreads in black bean dip. While vegetarian dishes present more possibilities when it comes to accessing magnesium, salmon and halibut are also good sources. Bake filets with fresh basil and serve them up with steamed swiss chard.
If nutritional engineering is not for you, meeting your recommended daily intake of magnesium can be easily achieved through supplements. Try substituting warm milk for a water-soluble magnesium citrate supplement such as Natural Calm's Magnesium Citrate. Dissolved in hot water, the mineral tang and effervescence is positively soothing.
Anna O’Byrne is a freelance writer in Toronto
Darcy Sutherland, RNCP and Registered Holistic Allergist (RhA) practices in Toronto and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on nutritional balance