Magnesium & Iron: Minerals for Sleep
**Disclaimer: This blog post is for information purposes only. I am in no way recommending anyone to use supplements for themselves or their children. If you feel that anyone in your family is low on either of these minerals please talk to your health care provider.
You know those nights when you can’t fall asleep because your whole body feels tense and your legs have that weird funny feeling. You toss and turn and then after you drift off you wake up in the night and may have some of those same symptoms! Or maybe you have a little one who is waking frequently and/or seems to be a very restless sleeper. It can be so frustrating.
If only there was something that could help……
I am a sleep consultant that primarily works with infant and toddlers and I am always looking for ways to improve sleep before moving onto the traditional sleep training strategies. With sleep disturbances affecting up to 30 percent of children I think it is important to cover all the bases of sleep and find strategies to help make even small improvements. Sleep Disruptions can impact a child’s developing brain and overall quality of life for them and their families. One topic that I have been looking into lately is how the two minerals magnesium and iron impact our sleep cycles. I have found that when working with infants and toddlers who are consuming solids in their diet it can help some sleep situations to include nutrient dense snacks that have high amounts of iron and magnesium. From a nutritional perspective, several research studies have shown certain minerals to be effective natural sleep aids that help people fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. We know that in order to fall asleep, stay asleep and have restorative sleep our body and mind need to be able to relax and so let’s talk about how these minerals can help with that!
What is Magnesium & How Does it Impact Sleep
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals found in the body and it plays an important role in over 300 chemical processes within our body. It is like a super mineral! Every cell and organ in our body need magnesium to function properly and it really helps improve overall health.
Magnesium theoretically impacts sleep in big ways! It has been said to be the primary ingredient in muscle relaxation. It is this mineral that activates our parasympathetic nervous system which is the part of our nervous system that relaxes us. This mineral is one that relaxes the body by suppressing nerve activity and has been referred to as “the relaxation mineral." Nerve activity can be responsible for muscle twitches and jerks which can make it hard to fall asleep and can cause night wakings for adults and little ones. In many resources magnesium deficiency has been linked to insomnia and other sleep disruptions that include restless leg syndrome, muscle cramps, sleep apnea, frequent night awakenings (usually due to symptoms just listed) and those lovely muscle jerks and twitches that can wake us up throughout the night. This makes sense as a lack of this natural muscle relaxant may be the cause of more frequent nerve activity.
This amazing mineral also plays a role in melatonin production. Melatonin is our rest and sleep hormone and is responsible for helping us fall asleep and stay asleep. Calcium is one nutrient that helps the brain encourage melatonin production and it is magnesium that allows calcium to do this. Magnesium is the gateway for calcium meaning it controls how it flows in the body. It can work together by encouraging calcium flow to the brain to induce melatonin production and then it can suppress it here to slow down melatonin production. This is what creates our sleep-awake pattern and can prepare the body and mind for that restful sleep we all need. Calcium is also a main component in muscle contractions and so magnesium can reduce the flow of calcium to the tissues and muscles which helps us to relax as mentioned above. Research has stated that "A lack of the nutrients calcium and magnesium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep."
How much magnesium does my family need?
According to Health Canada a large percentage of individuals are not reaching their recommended amounts of magnesium and could therefore be magnesium deficient. Reaching recommended dietary allowances for magnesium is one way to prevent magnesium deficiency and therefore reduce the chance of experiencing the frustrating symptoms listed above. Here are the recommended allowances for the mineral:
*Adequate Intake (AI
Sources of Magnesium
Many of us consume a diet that includes next to no magnesium but there are many ways to get magnesium into the body. The primary way is through nutritional intake. Here is a great outline of some foods with high sources of magnesium. I personally like to include these foods as bedtime snacks for myself and my children who have snacks as part of their routine. I like to make sure I have all of that sleep inducing goodness on my side before bed!
Other sources of magnesium may include:
- Magnesium baths (Epsom salt baths)
- Transdermal infusion (sprays, oils, lotions)
What is Iron and how does it impact sleep
Iron is another mineral that the body needs to function at an optimal level. It is important for the transfer of oxygen throughout the body as well as growth, development, normal cellular functioning and production of some hormones and connective tissues. Iron deficiency anemia is a concern as it can impact the body in many ways.
Research is starting to suggest that iron levels have a lot to do with our sleep patterns. Many sleep patterns develop during infancy and so if these get disrupted early on it could lead to sleep problems later in childhood
Iron deficiency impacts the organization of sleep in your child’s body (and in our body as well). During the time when our sleep patterns are maturing we start to get stages of sleep that include sleep spindles. It is in the lighter stages of Non-REM (deep) sleep that the body experiences these sleep spindles and individuals spend a very large amount of time in this stage of sleep. Recent research has shown that when sleep spindles are present very important brain activities which include memory and the refreshment of our ability to learn occur. Iron deficiency has been shown to alter patterns of these restorative sleep spindles which can have a negative impact on sleep. We know how much our little one’s are learning at their young age and so this stage of sleep is especially important for them! With research correlating iron deficiencies with more sleep disturbances in infants and children it is beneficial to make sure we are reaching our children’s recommended iron intake!
How much Iron do we need?
Some resources have stated that 30-40% of children and pregnant women in industrialized countries are iron deficient. This percentage is much lower for younger babies but it is still estimated that as many as ¼ of infants worldwide experience iron deficiency anemia in some way resulting from a diet lacking in iron.
How much iron does your family need?
* Adequate Intake (AI
Sources of Iron
As with many minerals one of the best ways to increase iron levels is through our diet. Here is a great list by the Dietitians of Canada website of foods that you can include in your family’s diet to increase iron intake!
Other ways to increase our iron intake is through supplements that are supervised by your health care provider.
It really is amazing how many factors impact sleep. As mentioned above I like to look at all different things to see if there are little changes I can make to improve sleep and I feel that insuring my family is reaching the right nutrient intake is one way I can do this. I have shared this article for information purposes only as it has sparked interest in me. I think that having information under our parent belt can help us make the best choices for our family!
Although nutrition is a very important factor of sleep it is also important to know that this is only 1 factor. Having other healthy sleep foundations in place such as positive routines, an appropriate room environment and healthy schedules and sleep associations will all work together to encourage optimal sleep.
If you feel that your little one might be short on either of these minerals then I would recommend to look a little further into each one and talk to your health care provider before starting any supplements or additives.