Last week I was chronically sleep deprived, and even when my son was managing to sleep at night, I was often lying awake thinking about work and relationships. This has been an issue for me at stressful times during my PhD and my academic career, and especially when each of my children are between 1 and 3 years old. I was wondering whether I just do not get enough down time, and my body was on high alert organising a family of five and an academic job in a high maintenance house with a high maintenance garden. I think the answer to that is still probably ‘yes, I am not getting enough down time to relax’, but I also found my sleep improved dramatically after I started taking magnesium.
Magnesium is a mineral that is used in many processes important to our bodies, and one of those, apparently, is the healthy functioning of our GABA receptors, which help us to ‘switch off’. An interesting post about magnesium by a naturopath on Huffington Post states:
A mineral found in low levels in many foods, [magnesium] is a component of more than 325 different enzymes in the human body. It plays an important role in hydration, muscle relaxation, energy production and, crucially, the deactivation of adrenaline. Having sufficient magnesium in your body does not necessarily guarantee that you will go into a deep sleep quickly and stay there, but insufficient stores of the mineral guarantee that you won’t. And almost everyone I see is short of magnesium. (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/marek-doyle/help-me-sleep-magnesium-secret-to-sleep-problems_b_3311795.html)
My experience was almost instant: I started taking magnesium seven days ago, and from the very first night, my sleep was improved. Although it was still relatively light and a full moon, and I went to bed really early (recently this has meant that I wake at 1am thinking my sleep is all done), I slept quite solidly in between baby wake-ups. The following few nights were even better, and my husband commented that I was wandering around less at night, and he noticed I was letting the baby grizzle himself back to sleep as he lay between us in the bed.
Normally, as soon as I hear my son waking, I am on high alert, even if he is just rolling over or kicking off the blankets. This is the case whether he is sleeping in our bed or the nearby toddler bed. Once I tried sleeping in the spare room, and I woke up back at our room responding to him crying out during the night — totally without conscious decision! Another time we experimented with my husband taking him out to the lounge to resettle and but I could never get back to sleep so I would end up getting up with him and allowing my husband to sleep.
I remember him waking and grizzling, but I was so relaxed and sleepy I just rolled over and dozed until he fell back asleep snuggled into my back. This is a major breakthrough, and made me realise how much of his night waking is likely to actually be me overreacting to his active sleep and needing to breastfeed to relax and go back to sleep (breastfeeding releases oxytocin which also helps us relax).
So — who knew? Magnesium deficiency may have been a large part of my parenting style. Next steps: finding out which foods are magnesium rich and incorporating these into my life!