Calcium/Magnesium – Build Better Sleep


I watched a segment of the Dr. Oz program the other day, where he had as a guest Dr. Michael Breus, PhD.

Dr. Breus is also known as “The Sleep Doctor“, and I happened to be on a Twitter chat with him (and a few thousand others) later that week. He said something interesting on the TV program that caused me to think…

Why Calcium is Really Important

The show had a short section on supplements to help in your sleep, and Dr. Breus mentioned calcium and magnesium as the two minerals you want to make sure you have in abundance – either in your diet or through supplementation – every day.

They’re both important to our general health, and we’ll review why, one at a time. First, calcium is important because it’s:

  • important for strong teeth and bones
  • the leading prevention for osteoporosis
  • needed for normal clotting of the blood
  • involved in normal heart function
  • used in the conduction of nerve impulses
  • necessary for the contraction and relaxation of muscles and blood vessels
  • required for the regulation of body fluids (including hormones and enzymes)

The symptoms of a calcium deficiency can be any of the following:

  • back or neck pain – and this could be really serious if it’s a spinal bone fracture
  • stooped posture (as in severe osteoporosis)
  • loss of height
  • bone pain or tenderness
  • bone fractures with little or no pain

And How About Magnesium?

Magnesium is one of those minerals that your body cannot manufacture on it’s own – we need to consume it. Although it gets nowhere near the press that calcium does, it turns out that it’s just as essential for our health. It’s also the fourth most abundant mineral in our body. So, why is magnesium important?

  • it’s used in the proper formation of bone
  • it helps regulate body temperature
  • it’s part of maintaining normal muscle and nerve function
  • used for releasing energy from muscles
  • helps manufacturing proteins
  • aids in the absorption of calcium

It’s this last point that ties it all together with calcium. You need magnesium in order to absorb calcium. In fact, some of the cases of magnesium deficiency are actually caused by an excess of calcium – the magnesium just can’t “process” that much. If you get an insufficient amount of magnesium in your diet, these symptoms can occur:

  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • tremors
  • hyperexcitability
  • muscle spasms
  • nausea and vomiting
  • heart failure
  • chronic insomnia

Calcium and Magnesium – Together To Promote Sleep

It’s now known that calcium and magnesium are both required for good sleep. James F. Balch, M.D. (author of Prescription for Nutritional Healing) has written 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.”

Calcium levels in our body are markedly higher during REM sleep, and in cases of low REM or disturbed REM, researchers found calcium levels were lacking as well. Once normal levels of calcium were obtained again, normal REM sleep occurred. Calcium is used by your brain in the manufacture of melatonin (it actually helps absorb tryptophan, which is then converted into melatonin).

One of the leading symptoms of magnesium deficiency is chronic insomnia, usually characterized by frequent awakenings (if you’ve read anywhere else on this site, you’ll know that’s exactly the problem I suffer from). When patient magnesium levels are restored, their sleep is deeper with fewer interruptions (proven in a study by James Penland at the Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota).

What About Vitamin D – Often In The Same Supplement

The reason you’ll often find vitamin D in your calcium/magnesium supplement is that it is important in the absorption of both minerals from the intestine. Note that all of these three work together – and I’m sure there are several hundred more interactions taking place here as well, but these are the major ones we need to worry about for our purposes.

Some Common Food Sources of Calcium and Magnesium

Here is a partial list of where you might find calcium in your diet:

  • milk or fortified soy drinks
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • tofu
  • white/navy beans
  • almonds
  • sardines
  • salmon
  • oats
  • turnip greens
  • bok choy
  • oranges

And some foods that you would find rich in magnesium:

  • wheat bran
  • almonds
  • spinach
  • cashews
  • soybeans
  • wheat germ
  • nuts
  • oatmeal
  • peanuts
  • potatoes
  • rice

Note that these are both partial lists – for a more complete one, with the actual amounts per serving, go to the National Institutes for Health for magnesium and again for calcium.

The Recommended Daily Amounts (RDH) Of Calcium and Magnesium For Adults

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Calcium

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
7–12 months* 260 mg 260 mg
1–3 years 700 mg 700 mg
4–8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
9–13 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
14–18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51–70 years 1,000 mg 1,200 mg
71+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Magnesium

Age
(years)
Males
(mg/day)
Females
(mg/day)
Pregnancy
(mg/day)
Lactation
(mg/day)
1–3 80 80 N/A N/A
4–8 130 130 N/A N/A
9–13 240 240 N/A N/A
14–18 410 360 400 360
19–30 400 310 350 310
31+ 420 320 360 320

Supplementation Recommendations for Calcium and Magnesium

So you think you may be a bit deficient with the two minerals in your diet. Then the question is how much do you take? I would recommend starting here:

  • know that with calcium, you can only absorb about 500mg of it at a time, and I would think with a normal diet that’s about all you should be supplementing with per day (unless you have some specific reason for needing more) – you’re diet should at least make up for all the rest of the RDA – if it doesn’t, eat better
  • take the 500mg dose (or whatever dose you choose) and cut it in half – take half in the morning and half in the evening – this helps level off blood levels of the mineral throughout the day
  • calcium should be taken with magnesium in a 2:1 ration (twice as much calcium as magnesium) – again, so with a regular diet this should max out the magnesium to about 250mg –  and again, split it in two
  • if you take a supplement of calcium and magnesium, and if it also includes a dose of Vitamin D – it’s likely been calculated to give you enough Vitamin D to absorb the other two minerals – so don’t worry about it

Myself, I take a Jamieson supplement with:

  • 333mg Calcium
  • 167mg Magnesium
  • 5mcg Vitamin D3

I take 1 tablet in the morning, and another in the evening. I eat a pretty well rounded vegetarian diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables – my “dairy” comes from a soy, tofu, banana, berry smoothie every morning. So I figure that this supplementation should be more than enough.

Please leave a comment and let me know what and how much you supplement!

Addendum

It’s now the end of March, and I’ve been using this Calcium/Magnesium/D3 supplement for over two months. At first, I noticed no difference in sleep – quantity, quality, fracturing. Now I notice a measurable difference:

  • I now fall asleep right away most nights
  • I fall asleep earlier than I used to – typical for me now is 10:30pm – I used to go to bed at 1am and still not be tired
  • I still suffer from fractured sleep – waking several times a night (10-15 times)
  • I can now, however, get back to sleep almost immediately – I used to frequently lie awake for hours on end after being awakened
  • I haven’t had a night where I truly thought “I’ve gotten zero sleep” for several weeks now

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the progress. This is the first supplement I’ve taken that has had a positive measurable effect (for the negative effects, see this post about Valerian Root Tea).