Once my mother turned 80, it seems like she stopped sleeping — at night, that is.
The insomnia began to rule her life, as she became increasingly frustrated at not being able to sleep.
She searched for remedies, but none seemed to help. It didn’t help that she’d take a sleeping pill, then hop up out of bed 15 minutes later declaring, “well, that didn’t work!”
The frustration of not sleeping — and the exhaustion — gradually changed her personality. Once a bubbly “life of the party” woman, she became grumpy and impossible to please.
The exhaustion also began to wear on her mentally and physically. She had more falls, especially late at night, and her thinking became confused.
Once the insomnia became entrenched, her physical and mental decline was almost inevitable.
Watching her suffer led me to hunt for answers. And, not surprisingly, many of those answers can be found in nutrition.
While there are as many theories about what contributes to a good night’s sleep as there are researchers, most seem to agree that there are three nutrients that can make a world of difference for those having trouble sleeping.
There are some who estimate that 80 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient.
They don’t seem to be able to get the recommended amount from their diets, especially if they are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is made up of mostly processed foods.
But other things contribute to a magnesium deficiency, including diabetes and an unhealthy digestive system. Magnesium absorption also decreases with age. On top of that, many older adults are on a plethora of medications that can interfere with magnesium absorption.
This was my mom’s case. When I tried to introduce a magnesium supplement in the form of a spray, the medical professionals said no, saying it may interact with her medications.
So I tried to boost her magnesium levels by improving her diet, but that also proved difficult as she lives in a nursing home and they supply her meals.
To boost your magnesium levels, concentrate on eating a clean, healthy diet. Ditch the processed foods and incorporate more fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds in your diet. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and Swiss chard, are excellent sources of magnesium, as well as almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
If you’d like to add a supplement to boost your magnesium levels, some experts suggest using a spray for better absorption.
Others suggest magnesium threonate is the best source of magnesium as it is able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Past research has shown it could help improve memory.
Do some research to find out what dose works best for you, but all indications are that taking it after dinner or right before bedtime gives you the most benefit.
My mother ate a half a banana a day to “get in her potassium” but her levels were still way too low. I’d tell her to go ahead and eat the whole banana, but she wouldn’t, afraid of the weight gain from that many calories.
Even though it was half-hearted, she was on the right track — potassium is a vital nutrient that will aid in sleep. In fact, it works synergistically with magnesium to improve sleep.
It’s also helpful if you experience muscle cramps at night.
Signs that you may be potassium deficient include high blood pressure, fatigue, and muscle weakness.
And while bananas are perhaps the best-known source of potassium, it’s actually vegetables where you’ll find the most bang for your buck.
Once again, boost your diet with Swiss chard and spinach to get magnesium and potassium, but also consider broccoli, celery, avocado, brussels sprouts and romaine lettuce.
Most Americans are also deficient in Vitamin D. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time indoors, but that deficiency has contributed to a lot of problems with sleeping.
One is excessive daytime sleepiness, which disrupts normal sleep patterns. One study found that patients at a sleep clinic who complained of daytime sleepiness got rid of all their symptoms once their Vitamin D deficiency was treated.
The best way to boost your Vitamin D levels is to get outside in the sun.
But it that’s not possible, you probably will need supplementation. In this instance, it may be worthwhile to go to your doctor to get your Vitamin D levels tested. The doctor will then prescribe the correct amount to get you to the optimal levels.
Once you are there, it is recommended that adults get 8,000 IUs a day to maintain a healthy level of Vitamin D.