What is Magnesium anyway?
Magnesium is one of seven essential minerals that the body needs to function normally. It’s not produced in the body, so it has to be obtained through external sources. It needs to be consumed through foods or supplements. (You may have heard that it can be absorbed through the skin with oil or skin cream. See the last paragraph for a little more on that subject.)
What role does magnesium play in the body?
How much time have you got? Seriously. Magnesium is the Swiss Army Knife of minerals. It plays hundreds of different roles. It’s involved in almost every major metabolic and biochemical process. It helps in DNA and RNA synthesis, blood pressure regulation, nerve transmission, insulin metabolism, cardiac regulation, electrolyte balance, energy production, bone development, and the all-important stress-response system, which we’ll get back to shortly.
How much does a child need?
Daily magnesium requirements vary substantially by child and age range, but here are some ballpark numbers for reference. Your pediatrician will be much better suited to give you some specific numbers based on your baby’s weight and medical history.
● Birth - 6 months: 30 mg
● 7 - 12 months: 75 mg
● 1 - 3 years: 80 mg
● 4 - 8 years: 130 mg
How is it usually obtained?
Ideally, we should be getting our required intake of magnesium through our diet. It can be found in a wide variety of foods, including grains, nuts, bran, spinach, squash, okra, swiss chard, kale, peas…
Hey, are you seeing a bit of a trend here? Because that list sounds to me like a toddler composing a straight-up laundry list of foods that make them want to barf.
It’s not really surprising that a lot of kids aren’t getting the required amount of magnesium through their diets. I couldn’t find the magnesium content in the nutritional info of Dino-Nuggets, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not particularly high, and I’m sure we’re all well aware of the difficulty of trying to feed your kids foods they don’t like the look of. I don’t know a lot of three year-olds who willingly munch on kale chips. Come to think of it, I don’t know many adults who like them either. You say you do, but c’mon. I mean, really? Do you actually enjoy kale chips? The same way you enjoy actual chips? Be honest.
What does this have to do with sleep?
Alright, so as I mentioned, magnesium plays a big role in the body’s stress-response system. For brevity’s sake, I’ll spare you the scientific jargon, but if you’re interested, you can read all about it here. (And you should. It’s really interesting.)
The main point, for the purposes of this discussion, is that without sufficient magnesium, the body struggles to regulate cortisol levels, which leads to elevated alertness levels. That’s obviously something we want to prevent when your baby is going from one sleep cycle to the next during the night. What we’re really striving for when we’re trying to get a baby sleeping through the night is the ability to feel comfortable and secure when they stir after a sleep cycle, realize they still need more sleep, and then drift effortlessly back into another cycle. Elevated alertness and stress levels will obviously make that a lot more difficult.
So if your little one is waking up frequently during the night and having a hard time getting back to sleep, then yes, absolutely, you might want to try a magnesium supplement. As always, consult with your pediatrician before you go ahead with it, make sure you know how much to give them, get your supplements from a reputable source, and always be sure to read the list of ingredients when you’re considering what to get.
Why on earth are you telling me this?
I know you might be thinking, “Wait, aren’t you a pediatric sleep consultant? Don’t you make your living by teaching fundamental sleep skills? Isn’t this kind of an unconventional recommendation for someone in your line of work?”
The truth is, not every baby who doesn’t sleep well is in need of a major overhaul of their sleep habits. If there’s a quick and easy fix that can get them (and their parents) sleeping through the night, I’m all for it!
And yes, sometimes there really is a quick and easy fix! It’s not the norm, but I’ve seen it plenty of times. Taking away the iPad an hour before bed, getting rid of distractions in the nursery, there are situations where making one simple adjustment can make a world of difference, and when that’s the case, I love being able to pinpoint it, make the change, and see the impact it has on the family’s health and well-being.
If your baby’s got a magnesium deficiency, getting that sorted is a great step towards better overall health, and it just might be the cure for their sleepless nights. If you continue to struggle afterwards, however, I’m here to help you take the next step and teach them those fundamental sleep skills so that your whole family can start getting the sleep you need.
Oh, one last thing I’d like to mention. I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about transdermal magnesium therapy, which is the absorption of magnesium through the skin from oils and creams. (Some people have a bad reaction to oral magnesium supplements.) I’m not in a position to say one way or the other, but I would just like to mention that there’s a fair bit of scientific dispute about whether or not this method actually works.
Just a heads up in case you’re wanting to do a little more investigation before buying a pricey magnesium skin cream.