When it comes to getting our babies to sleep longer and better, we all fantasize about a “silver bullet” solution — something that would provide instant results with minimal effort and little cost. If only it were that easy! Any sleepy parent can tell you, though, that there is no silver bullet when it comes to getting your baby to sleep.
Or is there?
Recently, a client e-mailed to let us know how she got her 6 month old breast-fed baby sleeping through the night and taking long, restorative naps. Her secret? Magnesium supplements (for her). Other clients have cited iron supplements as the solution to their babies’ sleep problems. We here at Baby Sleep Site were intrigued; could magnesium and iron supplements be the silver bullets parents have been longing for?
What are Magnesium and Iron? What Do They Do For Our Bodies?
Let’s start with what these minerals are and how they work. Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in the human body, and it plays quite a large role in a person’s overall health. It is an essential part of more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body and is thought to be key in preventing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Iron is another vital mineral in our bodies. Iron is vital to the transport of oxygen throughout the body; it is also a key element in a number of cell functions as well as cell growth.
How Do We Get Magnesium and Iron In Our Diets?
Natural sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, certain beans and nuts (like almonds), and whole, unrefined grains, like wheat. Tap water (particularly “hard” tap water) can also be a source of magnesium. Iron occurs naturally in both plant and animal sources. Animal sources include red meats, poultry, and a variety of fish. Plant sources include many types of beans, tofu, and green, leafy vegetables like spinach. Iron-fortified foods (such as breakfast cereals) are also a good source of iron.
While it’s best to get your magnesium and iron from natural food sources, these minerals are also available in supplement form.
How Much Magnesium and Iron Do We Need? What About Our Babies?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium for adult men is around 400 mg/day, while the dosage for adult women is closer to 300 mg/day. The RDA for infants and young children is much lower. RDAs for iron vary greatly depending on age (infants age 7 – 12 months need large amounts of iron) and medical condition (pregnant women have much higher iron needs than women who aren’t pregnant.)
When considering these numbers, remember that they’re very general guidelines. We’re not recommending dosages in this article, simply because your child’s age and medical history, as well as any medications he may be taking, will impact how much magnesium and iron he should consume. If you’re considering a supplement for your toddler, or if you’re a nursing mom who’s thinking about taking a supplement yourself, talk to a health care provider. Both magnesium supplements and iron supplements should be administered to children only under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.
What If We Don’t Get Enough Magnesium or Iron?
Even though these minerals are so vital to good health, many of us don’t get enough of them. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets. This is due in large part to poor diet. Sleeplessness and high levels of stress, as well as certain medications, also contribute to magnesium deficiency, since they actually flush magnesium from the body.
Iron deficiency (called iron deficiency anemia, or IDA) is a serious health complication. IDA is the number one nutritional deficiency worldwide and is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. The most common IDA symptom is fatigue; IDA can also cause dizziness, shortness of breath, pale skin, cold hands and feet, and chest pain.
What Do Magnesium and Iron Have To Do With Sleep?
Magnesium has been called “nature’s muscle relaxant.” It calms the central nervous system and acts as a sedative. Magnesium actually suppresses nerve activity, which leads to a decrease in muscle twitches and jerks, therefore decreasing incidents of night waking. For these reasons, healthy levels of magnesium have been linked to deep, undisturbed sleep. Consequently, low levels of magnesium can contribute to frequent nighttime wakings. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to several insomnia-inducing conditions, including restless leg syndrome (RLS) and night terrors.
Low levels of iron have also been linked to sleep issues. A 2010 study indicates that IDA in infants can caused altered brain patterns that lead to disrupted sleep. IDA has also been linked to RLS and sleep apnea, two conditions known to cause insomnia. All of this research suggests that having healthy levels of iron in the bloodstream contributes to deeper, more restorative sleep for both children and adults.
Should We Give Our Babies Supplements To Help Them Sleep Better?
It’s important to remember that most of the findings mentioned here are based on research performed on adults and older children. Magnesium and iron affect the human body in specific ways, so it follows that if those minerals help adults sleep well, they will likely help babies and toddlers sleep well, too. However, little research has been performed on infants and toddlers to indicate if that’s the case.
Some mothers (like the one who e-mailed us) have had success in either taking a magnesium and/or iron supplement themselves (while breastfeeding) or giving a supplement to their young toddlers. Nursing mothers may even experience an added benefit: a calcium/magnesium supplement has been shown to help with low milk supply during menstruation.
However, the fact remains that there is no true “silver bullet” when it comes to baby sleep. Remember that no vitamin or mineral will overcome a baby’s bad sleep habits and help her learn brand-new, good ones. If your child has formed sleep associations, a dietary supplement won’t help her overcome them! Magnesium and iron supplements may be a tool to add to your arsenal, but we recommend that you educate yourself about baby sleep patterns and schedules and work to lay a good foundation of healthy sleep habits for your baby.
Have you used magnesium or iron supplements to improve sleep for you or your baby? Has it worked? Share your story!
It’ll probably take more than a supplement to get your baby sleeping well. Fortunately, we have the tools you need! Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.
Office of Dietary Supplements (a branch of the National Institute of Health)
Health Supplements Nutritional Guide
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Advanced Nutritional Resource
While The Baby Sleep Site® publishes what we consider to be safe tips and suggestions, all The Baby Sleep Site® content is made available on an as-is basis, with no warranties expressed or implied. This publication is not intended for use as a source of medical advice and we encourage communication with your baby’s pediatrician, particularly for information concerning dietary supplements.
9 thoughts on “Magnesium and Iron: The “Silver Bullet” Solutions to Better Baby Sleep?”
Can someone name a good magnesium brand for babies under a year? Thanks
Hi @Ghadeir, thanks for visiting the Baby Sleep Site! I would recommend speaking with your child’s doctor about it and see what they suggest. I’m sorry I don’t have a specific suggestion, I personally haven’t used it myself for my children. Thanks again for stopping by!
Have you seen a magnesium/iron deficiency affect early wake ups?
@Jen – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for reading. We’ve seen many, many things here over the past 10 years and vitamin deficiencies can definitely impact the quality of sleep for babies, toddlers and adults. If you suspect your little one has a deficiency in any area, please contact his/her healthcare provider for next steps. Good luck!
Our little girl was waking up 15 to 22 times a night for the first 2.5 years of her life. We finally had a referral to the pediatric sleep clinic and she was diagnosed with “random limb movement disorder” – kind of like restless leg syndrome for the whole body. She was started on magnesium and within a week her sleep improved to the point where she only wakes up 0-3 times per night!! Starting a liquid magnesium supplement was life-changing for us. She has been taking it for about 15 months now and we can tell the nights she misses a dose because she’s up a bunch of times in the night.
Now we have a 10-month-old boy who is exhibiting the same type of jerky restlessness and poor sleep, and I wondered if he could take the liquid magnesium now too, or if he’s too young?
@Jasmine, Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am so glad you found a solution for your daughter’s sleep problems. I can’t imagine the celebration you had the next morning after sleeping through the night! For your son, I would recommend speaking with his doctor and seeing what they suggest to make sure it is advised and can help on the dosage. Thanks again for your comment!
How old is she? Magneisum capsule? And the other is liquid?
@ Will — Thanks for sharing your experience! Sounds like magnesium worked well for Sarah, especially considering that when she wasn’t taking it, her sleep really suffered.
If you need help with the bedtime routine and nap issues, don’t hesitate to contact us 🙂
We mixed a small amount of a magnesium suppliment in Sarah’s bottle after she was done breast feeding- and sleep was great. She is also very strong physically and well tempered [for the most part 😉 ].
Then when she went to solid food, she did not like the suppliment… We tried putting it in applesauce, oatmeal, you name it- she could always pick it out.
Then she started having serious sleep problems and could not sleep through the night- sometimes we would be up 2 or 3 hours.
We found a new magnesium suppliment that tastes like lemonade… And now Sarah drinks some “lemonade” every day and we are back to sleeping through the night.
We still have Issues with the bedtime routine and naps- which is how I came across this wonderful website… Doing research on those issues.
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