By Sarah Clachar, Health Writer
December 5, 2008
'Tis the season for lights and celebration – a busy time. And a challenging time as well – between the stress and busyness of the holidays, your body goes through a lot of wear and tear.
But it's also the sleeping season – a time to slow down and recover.
While we humans ward off the dark and chill with festivals, much of the natural world is simply taking a break. Trees are dormant. Frogs and bears are hibernating.
Let’s take a hint from these wild creatures. Our bodies sorely need the rest. What better time to focus on how to get the best and most sleep than when it’s so cozy and dark. Great sleeping weather!
And the simple mineral, magnesium, can help get you snoozing.
The Need for Sleep
Unmistakably, sleep is one of life’s essentials. Our drooping eyelids and some good yawns tell us our body wants it. Common sense tells us that we need it to stay healthy and energized.
Dr. Kris Somol, a naturopathic physician at Bastyr Center for Natural Health and adjunct professor at Bastyr University in Seattle, points out that without this essential medicine, our body cannot heal itself.1 Poor sleep contributes to both chronic pain and increased vulnerability to infection - yeast infections in particular.2
But despite the clear need for it, the reality isn’t so simple. Sleep is hard to get.
Somol observes that today’s culture emphasizes doing it all. "In this equation, the quality and quantity of sleep is one of the main areas compromised," she notes.
And not only do we lose sleep because we’re cutting down the hours, a common deficiency can contribute to sleep difficulty. Combine this with the physical pain and discomfort that can come with poor sleep and we get caught in a vicious cycle.
How to Restore Your Sleep So It Can Restore You
To get the sleep you need, Dr. Somol recommends starting with the basics. Practice good sleep habits. Set a regular bedtime and wakeup schedule to help establish a regular circadian rhythm. Avoid stimulating beverages, foods and media at least an hour before sleep. And for additional relaxation, Somol suggests a bath with Epsom salts or calming essential oils.
But to really improve sleep, Somol highly recommends magnesium, especially if chronic pain, illness, or muscle cramps keep you up. "I have consistently seen magnesium improve sleep in patients, especially when taken in appropriate combination with calcium," says Somol.
Not Just Any Old Sleep Will Do
According to current research, it’s not only how much sleep you get but also the quality of sleep. Deep sleep is what researchers have identified as essential to reducing pain, repairing the body and warding off infection.3
And the truth is most sleeping pills on the market keep you in the lighter stage of sleep.4
But magnesium, in contrast, actually seems to increase deep sleep.
In 2002, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry wanted to see if magnesium could reverse the decrease in deep sleep associated with aging. They conducted a double-blind placebo-controlled study with the help of 12 elderly patients. The researchers found that when patients took magnesium supplements, it significantly increased the amount of slow wave sleep – or deep sleep – the patients were experiencing.5
Blood tests of the test subjects further revealed that magnesium supplementation was linked with decreased levels of cortisol, the hormone that keeps us alert.
In fact, the evidence is so compelling that the USDA is funding further studies at the Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, N.D to find out more. Preliminary studies showed that inadequate magnesium also caused changes in brain waves – electrical activity in the brain – when test subjects were sleeping.
Explained USDA researcher, Forrest Nielsen, "Both human and animal studies [show] that magnesium deficiency results in sleep disturbances, such as agitated sleep and frequent periods of awakenings. This has been related to changes in electrical activity in the brain."
Magnesium Relaxes Muscles
Furthermore, as discussed in last month’s newsletter article, magnesium relaxes cramping muscles and calms nerve activity. Without sufficient magnesium, your body stays tense, your muscles slightly contracted. With the right amount of magnesium your body relaxes.
For this reason, magnesium supplementation proves to be especially helpful for people who lose sleep because of chronic pain or restless legs syndrome.
The Magnesium-Melatonin Connection
Finally, magnesium seems to also help maintain sleep-inducing levels of the hormone, melatonin. Many people have found relief from insomnia by supplementing with this hormone.
But Somol and other practitioners are cautious about recommending melatonin, especially when treating fibromyalgia (FM) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). In some cases, Somol has seen patients with these conditions experience more discomfort after taking melatonin. She also notes that while melatonin can help you fall asleep initially, it may not help you stay asleep unless it has sustained release properties.
Magnesium offers another route to better melatonin levels. While the research is preliminary, a recent study published in the journal Magnesium Research indicates that magnesium increases the activity level of an enzyme that helps produce melatonin.
Your Best Holiday Gift Ever
So ignore some of the holiday demands and carve out time for what your body demands – more rest. Celebrate the peacefulness and darkness of winter with a good night’s sleep.
If you need some extra help, try incorporating magnesium into your supplement regimen. Jigsaw’s Magnesium w/SRT (Sustained Release Technology) is highly absorbable and formulated to prevent the diarrhea that is associated with most magnesium supplementation.
The sleep it brings might be the best gift you can give yourself or someone you love.
To a healing Holiday Season!
- Personal interview Kris Somol 12/2/08
- H Moldofsky and P Scarisbrick, "Induction of neurasthenic musculoskeletal pain syndrome by selective sleep stage deprivation," Psychosomatic Medicine 1976; 38(1): 35-44.; CA Everson, "Sustained Sleep Deprivation Impairs Host Defense." AJP – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 1993; 265 (5), 1148-1154.
- Teitelbaum, p. 48.
- Teitelbaum J, Pain Free 1-2-3, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2006. p. 19
- Held K, "Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans," Pharmacopsychiatry 2002; 35(4), 135-43.
- http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=10874 viewed 12/4/08
Article ID: 568