Getting Enough Sleep

Minerals, hormones, herbs, and amino acids. Magnesium is needed for quality sleep, and it is often low in mothers. It's Daily Value (DV)* is 320 milligrams (mg) per day (360 mg if you are pregnant). We suggest that mothers consider taking somewhat higher levels of many nutrients than the DVs; we call these the Mother's Suggested Daily Values (MSDVs). The MSDV for magnesium is 500 mg, and most busy mothers find it very difficult to get even the DV of 320 mg in their diet, so you could take a supplement in the form of magnesium glysinate, citrate, lysinate, or aspartate. Calcium is another mineral that can help you sleep better. Its DV is 1000 mg, and the MSDV is 1200 mg (1600 mg if you're pregnant or nursing). Calcium and magnesium are often combined in a single supplement.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that signals the body to sleep, and consuming a bit at night could help you get a good night's rest. (But before we say another word here, we need to make an important point: Women who are pregnant, might become pregnant in the next few months, or are breast-feeding, should not take any hormones, herbs, or most amino acids without being in the care of a licensed health professional experienced in their use.) Melatonin can be taken sub-lingually (beneath the tongue) for a quick effect if it's hard to fall asleep in the first place, or swallowed in time-release form if you are troubled by nighttime waking. Some mothers find that immediately taking a little sublingual melatonin if they wake up in the middle of the night puts them back to sleep. If you try melatonin, find the minimum amount that works for you. Dosages as low as 0.3 to 0.5 mg can be sedating; do not exceed 1 to 2 mg, and do not take any melatonin at all if you are using cortisone. Some studies, typically using high doses, have linked melatonin to increased allergies, depression, and sexual dysfunction; but in the range we suggest, Jan has never seen those problems.

Valerian and passionflower are Western herbs that can help bring on or deepen sleep, and they are often placed together in tinctures available in health food stores. Herbalists also use skullcap, oat straw, and lavender. As well, the Chinese formula Swan Zao Ren Tang, can aid your sleep. You can get it from an acupuncturist or some health food stores.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps you sleep, and the body builds it from an amino acid, tryptophan. As an intermediate step, the body produces a chemical with the exotic name 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and supplementing 5-HTP has been shown to be useful for sleep. Ironically, when you first start taking 5-HTP, you may need to consume it early in the day or it might cause insomnia. (A few people experience mild gastrointesdnal distress with 5-HTP, which is usually resolved by increasing the dosage slowly, sticking with a minimum dose, and taking it just before meals.) After your body is used to it, you could probably take it before bed. You could start with about 50 mg, and increase the dose slowly if you need to (e.g., 50 mg every few days) up to 150 mg, settling at a dosage that helps you get good sleep, and before you start to feel groggy during the day or have overly intense dreams at night. Since serotonin is also involved in regulating your mood, 5-HTP may help with that, too. The minimum amount a person should consume each day.


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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