A couple of months ago I wrote about magnesium. This is a mineral that is essential to life but is also frequently missing from the diet of modern humans. Since I wrote my previous article Chris and I have both been taking Epsom Salt baths 2-3 times each week and have found ways to build this into our daily routines by taking baths at times when we would usually have a shower. For me it means taking a 20 minute soak instead of a shower a couple of times each week when I’ve cycled home from work. Chris baths after his squat workouts.
We have both felt some difference, in particular with how rested we feel when we wake up each morning, even if we have to wake up early. However, I’ve picked up in a few places that magnesium is also depleted much faster by stress, so last week was a bit of a test for Chris and me. Not only were we dealing with increased stress created by our topsy-turvy living arrangements, but we were also unable to take our Epsom Salt baths (thanks to having no hot water).
This was our chance to find out, through removing it again, if the magnesium supplementation had been having any affect.
General observations from magnesium supplementation
Before last week’s break from magnesium, I had started noticing that the biggest change I was seeing as stress increased in my life was with my sleep. I wasn’t able to get any more sleep than I was getting before and my dreams were as vivid and active as before. The difference was with the way I felt each morning.
Previously a night of vivid dreams would leave me feeling tired and worn out the next morning with muscles sore as if I had been using them all night. An article on Iron Man Magazine last week suggests there is some science behind this muscular exhaustion. The article is about posing practice for a bodybuilding show increasing muscle size. To quote the article:
“When your muscles are flexing, fibers are firing and working—and choking off the blood supply for 30 seconds to a minute as you hold a pose puts demands on the sarcoplasm, the energy fluid inside the muscle fibers.”
If you are tensing muscles in your sleep you are creating a similar demand on your muscle fibres. This isn’t helpful when sleep cycles are meant to provide time for the muscles to rest and recuperate.
In comparison, for the last couple of months I have increasingly been waking up each morning feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Even when my night of sleep has been cut short due to an early start and I feel a little woolly-brained until I’ve been through the shower and properly woken up.
Observations from a week without magnesium supplements
It was a horrendous week last week. Yes, I had a particularly bad week at work, getting home late most evenings, but even accounting for that, the characteristics and behaviours we saw could not be put down solely to the stress and normal behaviour we usually exhibit these days when we are stressed.
So here are the things we noticed:
- Feeling tired and physically drained after a night of sleep.
- Poor recovery from workouts with muscles still sore 2 days later.
- Gradual increase in length and frequency of bad tempers as the week progressed, with some impressive raging arguments by the end of the week about the most ridiculous things.
- Reduced ability to logically resolve issues or rationally analyse a situation.
- Poor performance at physical activity, worsening as the week progressed (most clearly seen through my commute bike ride home, slowing from 15.8mph to 15.0mph).
- Inability to control emotions with flare-ups or tears at the slightest thing – at work I would move from anger at one issue to anger at another, making me difficult and unpleasant to work with and resulting in some bad decisions during the week.
- Slower reactions to things (especially when cycling and driving).
- Slower ability to regain emotional control – such as ability to calm down again after someone cut me up when driving.
A lot of this is emotional rather than physical yet it all seems to link back to the quality of sleep. They are all things that I have seen deteriorate in the past when I’ve had several consecutive nights of minimal sleep.
My best description of it was that it was almost like an out-of-body experience. I could hear myself snapping at people and things, a little part of my brain could sense I was reacting poorly and could even understand what the rational interpretation would be, yet I couldn’t stop my emotions from coming straight out of my vocal chords or body language. There was a disconnect where my brain should have been.
Frankly, I found the entire experience illuminating and also a little terrifying. Behaviours that I had believed had been brought under control through coaching at work a few years ago were reappearing worse than ever before. I’d been pleased to be seeing continued improvement, even over the last few months when I knew the stresses were getting worse. Now I believe that I would have seen a reduction in my ability to control those emotions and reactions in the last few months if it wasn’t for the fact that I started dosing with magnesium at about the same time.
On Friday night I came home to a warm house and took a half hour Epsom bath after ranting to Chris about several drivers who had tried to kill me as a cycled home.
I didn’t feel any better at first and Chris and I continued arguing as we did the shopping that evening, although I was now able to control myself sometimes when it was clear that the jibe Chris had made wasn’t really meant. At this point Chris still hadn’t supplemented.
The next morning my alarm woke me up and I felt instantly alert and refreshed. I got in a good workout in the gym, my clarity of thought was back where it should be and I felt completely in control of myself.
So what did I learn from this experience?
Mostly I learned that the magnesium, supplemented through the use of regular Epsom salt baths, really is making a difference to me. Epsom salt baths are now compulsory, not just an experimental optional extra.
It also made me think that Epsom salt baths should be compulsory for anyone in the western world. Anyone who isn’t already horizontal and stress free at any rate!
Does this experience tempt you to try some magnesium supplementation too? If so, I would be really interested to hear what things seem to improve for you.