When it comes to insomnia treatment, you should always start with your lifestyle. Get enough exercise, reduce stress from your life, keep a regular schedule, stop drinking so much coffee, and you should be on your path to a healthy sleep habits. But, as a mother of 3 and business owner, I know that we can all use a little bit of help getting to sleep sometimes. That is why I turn to magnesium as an insomnia treatment.
How Magnesium Works as an Insomnia Treatment
I touched a bit on this topic in my article about why I choose magnesium over melatonin for inducing sleep. Unlike conventional pharmaceutical insomnia treatments which alter your brain chemistry to induce sleepiness (definitely not something I recommend!), magnesium works by helping you relax. Considering that two of the most common causes of insomnia are stress and anxiety, relaxation is something we can definitely use on sleepless nights! Magnesium can also help fight depression, which is another leading cause of insomnia.
So how does magnesium help us relax?
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in your body, particularly in your bones, muscles, and brain. As far as insomnia treatment goes, we are interested in magnesium’s role in your muscles and brain (though bone health is obviously important too).
How Magnesium Helps Your Nervous System
You might recall that your nerve cells “talk” to each other with electrical signals. Because there are gaps between your nerve cells (synapses), your nerves rely on chemicals to transmit signals across the gaps. Some of the chemicals hanging out in the gaps help signals cross the gap, whereas other chemicals stop signals from crossing. Magnesium is one of the chemicals which stops signals from crossing nerve synapses.
Magnesium hangs out with calcium and glutamate in the gaps between nerve cells. Calcium and glutamate are both excitatory. Glutamate in particular excites your mood (anxiety anyone?). If we just had calcium and glutamate in our nerve synapses, we’d be in a constant state of excitation and this would lead to nerve damage and cell death. To combat this, our bodies use magnesium. Magnesium binds to the same receptors on the nerves and prevents excitory signals from going past. In this sense, magnesium acts as a “gatekeeper” to regulate the amount of excitation and help keep us calm.
In addition to calming us, magnesium also has a reciprocal relationship with stress hormones. Magnesium can inhibit the hippocampus’s release of stress hormones, and also reduces the hormone ACTH (which in turn triggers your body to release cortisol and adrenaline). Magnesium is so powerful for reducing stress that an article in Psychology Today calls it “The Original Chill Pill.”
However, I say that magnesium and stress have a reciprocal relationship because stress causes magnesium depletion. When combating stress, magnesium is depleted from your body. Many of us are in constant states of stress, which means we are draining ourselves of the very mineral we need to reduce stress.
Finally, magnesium is one of the cofactors for dopamine and serotonin synthesis. These neurotransmitters are widely known for their roles in regulating mood. Is depression causing your sleep problems? Consider this then:
Low magnesium = low serotonin = depression = insomnia
How Magnesium Helps Muscle Relaxation
Are you feeling tense all the time and muscle pains are preventing you from sleeping? Magnesium may be just the insomnia treatment you need. Calcium in our nerve synapses signals muscles to contract. Magnesium counteracts calcium and tells muscles to relax. Without enough magnesium, our muscles would be in a constant state of contraction. If you are taking a calcium supplement without magnesium, you should rethink it!
Dr. Hyman gives several examples of how magnesium was used in the ER where he worked. When someone would come in with life-threatening arrhythmia, they’d administer a dose of magnesium to regulate the heart beat. If someone was constipated and needed a colonoscopy, again they’d give magnesium to help with emptying the bowels. If a pregnant woman was having seizures, again can magnesium to the rescue. As he says, you don’t have to be in the hospital to benefit from magnesium. Increasing magnesium intake is an easy way to improve health and treat problems like muscle pains and insomnia.
15% of People Are Deficient in Magnesium
According to Dr. Hyman, about 15% of the general population is deficient in magnesium. The fact that most Americans eat a diet of white bread, sugars, and refined foods which are completely devoid of nutrients definitely doesn’t help the situation. Considering how important magnesium is for reducing stress, relaxing muscles, and regulating mood, you might want to consider magnesium as your insomnia treatment before you reach for those pharmaceuticals!
How to Use Magnesium as an Insomnia Treatment
1. Fix Your Diet
Always put food first! Popping pills and supplements are not a solution to a bad diet. For starters, I’d recommend ditching all that processed food stuff from your diet and replacing it with real foods. Definitely get rid of colas and avoid excessive amounts of caffeine (coffee, tea) and alcohol as these cause zinc depletion from the body. When my family and switched to a diet of real food our health improved dramatically. You can read more about the benefits of real food and how to make it work for your lifestyle in my book Paleo Made Easy.
2. Put Magnesium Into Your Bath
Even if you optimize your diet, you might still have trouble getting enough magnesium. This is because the body very poorly absorbs magnesium: only about 20% to 50% of ingested magnesium is absorbed by the body. The solution? Skip the digestive system and absorb magnesium through your skin instead!
Epsom salts are actually just a fancy name for magnesium salts (because Epsom salts were mined from a spring in the town of Epsom, England). Here you can find a simple recipe for a relaxing Epsom salt bath. I like this brand of Epsom salts because they are high-quality and cheap.
3. Rub Magnesium On Your Body
You can also get magnesium transdermally by rubbing or spraying magnesium oil directly to your body. For insomnia treatment, apply to your temples. You can also apply magnesium oil to your palms, feet, or any aching muscles. Or, to really get your relaxation on, use magnesium oil when giving a massage! I like this brand of magnesium oil. It also has the benefit of making your skin super soft. Note that some people find magnesium oil to be a bit itchy. You can either wipe it off after letting it absorb, or try mixing it with coconut oil to minimize the itchiness.
4. Magnesium Supplements
The RDI for magnesium (meaning the MINIMUM you should be consuming!) is 420mg for adult males and 320mg for adult females. Again, this is the minimum amount to meet bodily functions. Most people can benefit from having 1000mg of magnesium per day. Since you should also be getting magnesium through food, magnesium supplement dosages are usually about 200mg to 400mg. I like this brand of magnesium. Two spoonfuls = 350mg magnesium.
Worried that magnesium will give you loose stools? It takes 800-1600mg of magnesium to cause diarrhea but this varies per person so you’ll want to start slowly with magnesium supplements for treating insomnia. Start by taking a smaller dosage and work your way up to the full dosage. You can also divide the dosage into parts, such as taking one part of the dosage during the morning and the rest before bed.
Want to learn more about natural ways to help sleep?
Order a copy of Go to Bed: 14 Easy Steps to Healthier Sleep. Written by renown health expert Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, the guide gives you really valuable information about the science of sleep, why you aren’t sleeping, and how to get to sleep by taking a few easy steps.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried magnesium for insomnia? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments below!
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