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Help Me Sleep: Magnesium Is the Secret for Sleep Problems

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We talk about how much we're getting and who we're doing it with. We show off about where we've been doing it, from the couch to the beach, or even under a tree on a nice summer's day. And you can always tell who isn't getting any. I am, of course, talking about sleep. It's a subject close to all our hearts, yet the joy of sleep remains elusive for many.

A quick search for 'sleeping problems' throws up over 152million results in Google. It is estimated that, each year, more than a third of us suffer from insomnia. Getting a good nights sleep is very simple in most cases yet, on countless initial consultations, clients report experiencing long-running problems spanning the course of many years.

"I saw one naturopath and he suggested I spray my pillow with lavender." Guess what, this didn't help.

"A different nutritionist advised me to stop using the laptop before bed." A sensible move, and one that reduces UV exposure late in the evening, but the effects are marginal.

"My yoga teacher recommended that I do some deep breathing whenever I'm lying there awake." It's fair to say that deep breathing can definitely help relaxation, but I haven't ever spoken to someone who changes from a chronic insomniac to perfect sleeper on the basis of their breathing patterns.

"I thought that maybe I should stop drinking coffee in the evening." Cutting out the caffeine can help a lot, and many respond well to it. But this remains an adjunct, rather than a cure in itself.

"My doctor offered me anti-depressants." The less said about this the better.

Never do I see suggestions for the one thing that, over 90 percent of the time, fixes the actual problem within 24 hours. This one thing is magnesium. A mineral found in low levels in many foods, it 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.

How can you tell if you need more magnesium? Well if you're having difficulty in going to sleep, find that you wake easily or wake before the alarm, you may be short. If you get cramps regularly, find that fluids pass through you easily, have cold hands and feet, experience tightness in the neck and shoulders or notice twitches in small muscles (the eyelid, for example), you will probably benefit from addressing this. By far the most noticeable change is sleep quality.

Magnesium is vital for the function of GABA receptors, which exist across all areas of the brain and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off; without it, we remain tense, our thoughts race and we lie in bed staring at the ceiling. Whether the brain is in 'on' of 'off' mode is a very complex area, and can also be affected by chemicals like noradrenaline, serotonin and histamine. However, on a more simple level, the most crucial balance is that of GABA vs glutamate. Whereas GABA calms, glutamate fires the brain into higher states of activity; you use the latter when solving sudoku puzzles, but you need GABA to prevail in order to go to sleep.

It is not always about magnesium, but literally hundreds of clients have come to me with sleeping problems and, in every single case, magnesium has been my first suggestion. It's rare that I need to make a second. Many friends now see their lives in two parts; one before they discovered magnesium, and one after I give them this tip.

If want to join them, then I suggest taking 400-500mg of magnesium before you go to sleep. This should be in a chelated form (such as citrate, ascorbate, orotate, glycinate, ideally a mix of them). Avoid oxide salts and be aware that some sensitive people get diarrhoea from higher doses of the citrate form. For even better results, use alongside a good quality multivitamin. People with long-standing digestive issues may not absorb minerals so well and may benefit from transdermal sprays instead.

The introduction of magnesium is so easy and effective, the only question is why so many people try so many other things to get a good night's sleep. Don't believe me? Try it. Cards, donations and presents will be cheerfully received, but I am not responsible if you sleep through your alarm.

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