Insomnia? Get Restorative Sleep Back!
Updated: Aug 18
“Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity.”
Matt Walker, TED 2019, Sleep is Your Superpower.
What’s worse than being exhausted, going to bed, and then tossing and turning for an hour or more? Or waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep?
If you’ve experienced this, you’ve experienced insomnia. It isn’t fun, but what is it, and how can you get back to sleep?
What is insomnia?
Very simply, insomnia is difficulty in falling asleep (onset insomnia) and/or difficulty in staying asleep (maintenance insomnia), i.e., you wake up way too early and just can’t get back to sleep (Pizzorno, Murray, & Joiner-Bey, 2016). There’s another kind known as non-restorative sleep, where you’re just fatigued all the time.
Primary insomnia is when there is no other physical, psychiatric, or environmental reason you can’t sleep. Secondary insomnia is when there is another underlying medical reason and your insomnia should resolve itself once the medical condition is addressed (Ross, 2019). Insomnia can last from a week to several months. It can affect children and adolescents though its prevalence increases as we age (Abbasi, et al., 2012). Gasp!
What causes insomnia?
Here’s a handy little chart on the various things that may trigger sleep-onset and sleep-maintenance insomnia. This list is by no means exhaustive.
(Pizzorno, Murray, & Joiner-Bey, 2016)
But why is sleep important?
Well, 8-40% of us are in some stage of insomnia and/or getting really poor-quality sleep (Fernandez-Mendoza & Vgontzas, 2013).
In good-quality sleep, growth hormone is secreted and regenerates the liver, builds muscle, converts fat tissue to muscle, regulates blood sugar, and eradicates free radicals (Pizzorno, Murray, & Joiner-Bey, 2016). In fact, “sleep is the antioxidant for the brain”, removing free radicals that have accumulated during waking hours (Pizzorno, Murray, & Joiner-Bey, 2016).
It also increases the brain’s capacity to make memories and increase rates of learning (Walker, n.d.).
So, a lack of sleep may seem to cause trouble. And it does. A sleep deficit affects our immune system by suppressing it by 70% (specifically our natural killer cells) and this puts one at risk for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders (Walker, n.d., Jagannath, 2017). One little all-nighter can already make this happen. Additionally, sleep deprivation disrupts DNA synthesis causing harmful genes to turn on and helpful genes (our immune system) to turn off. If this wasn’t bad enough, a lack of sleep speeds up aging in the brain (Pizzorno, Murray, & Joiner-Bey, 2016). Double gasp!
That’s 8-40% of us facing these issues.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the body that plays a vital role in over 300 enzymatic processes. Some of these include protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation (NIH, n.d.). Magnesium also plays a structural role in the development of our bones and DNA synthesis.
Crucially, magnesium deficiency plays a role in circadian rhythms (our sleep-wake cycles), melatonin reduction, and sleep disorders (Abbasi, et al., 2012). Aging is a major risk factor for magnesium deficiency but anyone can be at risk if they’re not getting or absorbing enough.
Where can you get magnesium?
The first place to always look is food such as nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, seafood, and dark leafy greens (of course) (Abbasi, et al., 2012). Even dark chocolate has some.
Then, there are supplements. Lots of them such as magnesium citrate, glycinate, threonate, and malate. Different forms of magnesium have different intestinal absorption rates and abilities (Razzaque, 2018). Some claim that “organic forms” such as asparate, citrate, lactate, and chloride are more bioavailable than their “inorganic” counterparts oxide and sulfate (Razzaque, 2018). Either way, for sleep issues and the underlying reasons for them, you’ll want to reach for magnesium glycinate.
Applying magnesium oil is another option as it can be absorbed through the sweat glands (Razzaque, 2018). And finally, Epsom salt baths are thought to enhance magnesium levels (Razzaque, 2018).
See the table below for recommended dosing.
Lastly, some popular and reputable brands include, but are not limited to; Integrative Therapeutics, Innate Response Formulas, Vital Nutrients.
High doses of zinc supplementation can interfere with magnesium absorption (NIH, n.d.) Additionally, Mg interferes with the absorption of digoxin, tetracycline, and quinolone antibiotics and can decrease their efficacy (NIH, n.d.). Magnesium supplements should be taken 2 hours apart from antibiotics (Fry, 2018). The same goes for anti-malarial medicines and bisphosphonates (NIH, n.d.). Long-term use of diuretics also depletes magnesium.
If you’re interested in learning more about sleep and the lack thereof, check out this illuminating TED Talk by Matt Walker. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_sleep_is_your_superpower/transcript?language=en#t-934704
Wishing you a restful night of sleep!
Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161–1169.
Fernandez-Mendoza, J., & Vgontzas, A. N. (2013). Insomnia and its impact on physical and mental health. Current psychiatry reports, 15(12), 418. doi:10.1007/s11920-013-0418-8
Fry, M. (2018). NUTR 612: Module 4 Lecture. [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes
Online Web site: https://learn.muih.edu
Image. Gorn, A. (n.d.). Woman covering her face with a blanket. Retrieved October 15, 2019 from https://unsplash.com/photos/smuS_jUZa9I
Jagannath, A., Taylor, L., Wakaf, Z., Vasudevan, S. R., & Foster, R. G. (2017). The genetics of circadian rhythms, sleep and health. Human molecular genetics, 26(R2), R128–R138. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddx240
Office of Dietary Supplements - Magnesium. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
Pizzorno, J. E., Murray, M. T., & Joiner-Bey, H. (2016). The clinician's handbook of natural medicine. Elsevier.
Razzaque M. S. (2018). Magnesium: Are We Consuming Enough?. Nutrients, 10(12), 1863. doi:10.3390/nu10121863
Ross, K. (2019). NUTR 636: Module 2 Lecture. [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes
Online Web site: https://learn.muih.edu
Walker, M. (n.d.). Transcript of "Sleep is your superpower". Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_sleep_is_your_superpower/transcript?language=en#t-934704