If you’re not sleeping well, chances are you’ll try anything. But did you know one simple mineral may be the solution?

Insomniacs know exactly what to avoid: late afternoon lattes, too much screen time, intense evening cardio. But many people who sleep poorly are still unaware of how minerals play a role in getting to sleep fast, and staying asleep longer.

When you think of minerals for sleep, you might think of calcium. That warm glass of milk theory has a certain logic, but more calcium is not nature’s best remedy: hold the 1% and the steamer.

The strongest argument in favour of milk is that it contains trypotophan, a precursor to melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Its production is triggered by darkness, and as such it regulates our internal clocks. Milk’s calcium aids in the uptake of tryptophan, speeding relaxation. That’s why calcium is often recommended for sleeplessness, often to the neglect of other essential minerals.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and it plays a central role in nervous system functioning, but it’s not alone. Calcium has a complex relationship with magnesium and their interplay has implications for insomnia.

In the nervous system, magnesium and calcium perform reverse functions. Calcium’s role is to stimulate nerves, exciting adrenaline and contracting muscles, for example. Magnesium slows the nervous impulse, shuts down adrenaline responses and relaxes muscles. Together, these essential minerals regulate the central nervous system’s active and sedative states.

A research project at the United States Department of Agriculture studied subjects at rest and found that “a diet inadequate in magnesium caused changes in brain waves–electrical activity in the brain”1. These findings build on a growing body of evidence pointing to magnesium deficiency as a cause of sleep disturbances, including agitated sleep and frequent waking. And that’s not all: magnesium is needed for melatonin to work its magic.

According to Darcy Sutherland, a Toronto Registered Nutritional Consultant Practitioner (RNCP), “magnesium has, in recent years, taken a back seat to calcium. There’s been an emphasis on the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health, but taking these supplements on their own can throw off the body’s balance.” Without magnesium, the signals to relax are impeded.

Anyone suffering from nocturnal muscle pain, spasms and headaches can appreciate the importance of winding down tension at night. Common leg cramps and even Restless Leg Syndrome, characterized by jumpy, twitchy, overactive limbs can be treated by muscle and nerve-calming magnesium. The same goes for tension headaches, the result of a tightening of the muscles in the neck and scalp, and migraines, triggered by exaggerated firing of the nerves.

Typically, our diets are heavily skewed in favour of calcium. Not only do many of us choose dairy products over magnesium-rich plant foods, but we also increasingly consume calcium-fortified products. The average North American consumes five to fifteen times more calcium than magnesium.2

No wonder so many people struggle with poor sleep and other symptoms of a mineral imbalance. More calcium, for most, is not the answer.

What should the idea ratio of calcium to magnesium be? Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND and author of The Magnesium Miracle argues it should be 1:12. While bones require two times more calcium than magnesium, the heart, brain and muscles require these minerals in the opposite proportion.

To boost your daily intake of magnesium, look to dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. A magnesium-rich meal can be whipped up with just a few simple ingredients. Try spinach salad with pumpkin seeds and avocado; toss a bulgur tabouli salad with chick peas.

Even with a perfect diet, it can be tough to get enough magnesium through foods. If you experience symptoms of magnesium deficiency, like frayed nerves, poor sleep, muscle tension and pain, try a highly-absorbable supplement like Natural Calm magnesium citrate.

Natural Calm dissolves in water for a fast-acting, great-tasting solution to magnesium deficiency. Try it half an hour before bed to begin winding down the nervous system, relaxing muscles and to activate your body’s natural melatonin.

Magnesium is depleted from the body about every 12 hours, so it’s important to make getting enough part of your routine. For anyone who experiences stress or pain during the day, a morning or afternoon dose of Natural Calm can help. It won’t make you sleepy if you’re getting enough rest at night, but it will help maintain a sense of calm.

1. Lukaski, Henry C. and Penland, James G. Functional Changes Appropriate for Determining Mineral Element Requirements1,2. U.S. Department of Agriculture,4 Agricultural Research Service, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center. Accessed at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hank_Lukaski/publication/14392932_Functional_changes_appropriate_for_determining_mineral_element_requirements/links/09e41510ae00c0d12f000000.pdf
2. Dean, Carolyn M.D., N.D. The Magnesium Miracle. Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 2014.