ST. LOUIS — Worrying about bills or tight deadlines can keep you awake at night, but the real issue might be that you can’t handle stress the way you think you can. In this scenario, you’ve been dealing with stress for long periods and feel your eyelid twitching periodically, and you wonder if people notice too.
Stress, real or imagined, increases your cortisol and other stress hormones as your body prepares to fight off danger. But if your cortisol remains high at bedtime, you won’t be able to sleep.
Eventually, chronic, long-term stress leads to exhaustion that feels unbearable, but you still won’t be able to sleep. This is what’s meant by feeling “wired but tired” and common in people who are burned out or have adrenal fatigue.
Stress and magnesium
In her article ‘18 Things Thyroid Patients Can Do to Beat Insomnia,’ Dr. Cammi Balleck writes how we handle stress is related to if our body has enough nutrition.
Nutritional deficiencies happen for several reasons. In fight-or-flight mode, stress hormones dump your body’s stores of calming minerals, like magnesium, because they’re not needed. Also, when you’re stressed, you may lack the time, motivation or appetite to cook and eat healthy foods, or you may forget to eat. When you do eat healthy, stress can cause GI issues that keep you from absorbing nutrients.
The first thing is taking care of the stress, of course. But if you have low levels of magnesium, one of the first signs is fatigue, but also insomnia, muscle spasms, weak or stiff muscles, anxiety and depression, according to Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietitian and owner of McDaniel Nutrition. Depression and anxiety can contribute to insomnia. Restless leg syndrome, the urge to move your legs while in bed, will also keep you awake and is reduced by magnesium.
“Magnesium deficiency is hard to diagnose due to many factors causing these same symptoms, so it’s best to ask your doctor to test your RBC Magnesium levels," McDaniel said. "If you’re low, taking magnesium has many benefits for sleep.”
Research has shown that supplementing with magnesium during bouts of insomnia had many improvements including falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer; fewer early morning awakenings; and lower cortisol levels, she explained.
Make sure you're reaching the recommended daily intake of magnesium — 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women. Working with a doctor or nutritionist helps to ensure your minerals are balanced and your diet supports healthy sleep.
If these strategies miss the mark, review other vitamin deficiencies that contribute to insomnia or talk to your doctor about your thyroid function and hormone production, as they are intimately connected and affected by chronic stress, according to Dr. Balleck.
Foods for sleep
- Include Atlantic salmon in your meal plan three times per week for better sleep and overall daily functioning, McDaniel suggested.
- Load up on magnesium-rich foods like almonds, bananas, seeds, dark leafy greens and legumes.
- Eat cherries and drink tart cherry juice to boost sleep-promoting melatonin and antioxidant power. People with sleep disorders may have high levels of oxidative stress. The antioxidant properties of cherries may help promote sleep by minimizing oxidative damage.
- Eat kiwi to stay asleep longer. It also has high antioxidant capacity and unusually high content of serotonin, which promotes sleep. Kiwi is also rich in the vitamin folate. Folate deficiency has been linked to insomnia and restless leg syndrome, and supplementation has been shown to alleviate these symptoms.
- Enjoy herbal teas that contain ingredients such as chamomile, lavender and peppermint. They may help promote sound sleep. Just don’t drink too much before bed, or you’ll be up to hit the bathroom!
Jackie Barnes, Ph.D., LCSW, is a freelance health writer, medical family therapist, consultant and professor. When she’s not practicing and promoting holistic health, she’s working on one of her many creative projects.