Having trouble sleeping? Of course you are, a good night’s sleep is so 2019! If there’s one thing that’s put paid to successful slumber it’s this utter poop parade of a year. And if pandemic stress isn’t enough to keep us tossing and turning into the small hours, then our erratic midlife hormones will finish the job.
With sleep at an all-time premium, there are no end of column inches on the topic, a quick google and our collective kip crisis is plain to see:
"Covid crisis exhaustion: Why we’re all tired and what to do about it!"
"How coronavirus has wreaked havoc with our sleep!" "My midlife sleep crisis: a nightly battle with insomnia!"
There’s plenty of advice out there, and a slew of recent books on the topic. They centre on improving your ‘sleep hygiene’, in fact I cover a lot of this stuff in my new book (out on Dec 31st people, available to pre-order!), The Midlife Method, how to lose weight and feel great after 40. Tips like ditching all screens (and yes that includes Netflix) at least an hour before bed, investing in an eye mask and/or ear plugs, using scented sleep sprays or listening to calming apps. All can be extremely helpful in creating an environment more conducive to sleep.
But if you’ve got your sleep set-up sorted and you’re still having problems dropping off (or even worse, waking up and not being able to get back to sleep!), the lure of the sleeping tablet may be strong. But there’s one more thing to try. It does involve taking a pill but not one that you might have to wean yourself off in the future - magnesium supplements.
My usual take on supplementation is that it is not required if you are eating a balanced and healthy diet, the only caveat to this would be taking a vitamin D supplement in winter if sunshine is in short supply. However, we are living in unsettling times. There is a surfeit of stress and anxiety and let’s face it we are doing a bit more comfort eating than we might otherwise do. It can be hard to ensure we are ticking all the nutrition boxes on top of everything else going on. If so, a magnesium supplement may be the answer to your sleep struggles.
What is magnesium and how does it affect our sleep?
You probably didn’t know (and neither did I until I started researching), that magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Wow! It helps support a healthy immune system (topical), keeps the heartbeat steady (no bad thing), helps bones remain strong (midlife bone-us, see what I did there), helps adjust blood glucose levels (always welcome) and aids in the production of energy (hurrah!). All very good stuff.
As far as sleep is concerned magnesium is used to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, including activating the neurotransmitters that are responsible for calming the body and the mind. A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation (up to 350mg daily) can be a helpful sleep aid, particularly for us slightly more mature folk.
Now the detail. There are various forms of magnesium in supplement form, but the one that is usually recommended in conjunction with sleep issues is magnesium glycinate which has a calming effect on the brain due to the presence of glycine. I’ve had a hunt around so you don’t have to, and these are an excellent and cost-effective option (not an ad by the way!)
Take two in the evening, preferably with a glass of milk which contains tryptohan (an amino acid which helps induce sleep) as well as melatonin (a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle). If you prefer to try and up your magnesium intake via your diet then the best food sources are nuts (especially almonds), leafy greens, legumes, seeds, bananas, avocado and fish.
Another thing to try is a warm, relaxing bath of epsom salts (magnesium sulphate). It’s thought the magnesium is absorbed via the skin and whilst there’s no scientific evidence for it directly improving sleep this way, it surely can’t hurt to give it a go. I mean what’s not to love about a nice leisurely soak?
If you decide to give magnesium supplements a try, or if you’re already a fan, then please share your experience here in my new thread on sleep in the forum. I'd love to know if you've found it helps because a good night's sleep is midlife magic!
N.B. If you have any existing health conditions or are taking any medication you should check with your GP before taking any supplements