Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world and there are many groups of people that could be at risk. Menstruating women, for example, who bleed heavily each month, may find that their iron stores become depleted over the course of their cycle. Vegans and vegetarians are another group at risk too as iron is primarily found in animal-derived food products such as red meat.
When it comes to your sleep cycle, having low levels of iron can produce a variety of side effects. Since iron is pivotal when it comes to the formation of red blood cells, being deficient can often bring about feelings of tiredness and fatigue. You may think that these drowsy sensations would actually promote sleep but actually, cases of daytime fatigue can contribute to sleep problems at night such as insomnia.1
Fortunately, there are many different ways you can increase your iron intake. Here at A.Vogel, we usually prefer that you consider your diet before jumping immediately to a supplement and as it turns out, even if you are vegan or vegetarian, there are plenty of plant-based sources of iron. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard are good examples here but you can also find plenty of iron in beans and seeds such as pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds. Super-charged spirulina is also a good option here too – just add a teaspoon to your morning smoothie!
However, if you do feel that you are at risk of developing anaemia, it might be time to consider a supplement.
In my blog, ‘Does vitamin D help you to sleep?’ I went a bit more in-depth about the relationship between vitamin D and sleep so here I’ll keep things brief. Understandably, due to the wet British summers and cold winters, having low levels of vitamin D is extremely common here in the UK and some studies are starting to find that it could be impacting our sleep.
This makes sense when you think about all of the indirect effects that vitamin D deficiency can have – it can lower your immune function, influence muscle pain and joint aches and it’s been associated with low mood and emotional problems like SAD. All of these factors can easily contribute to a poor night of sleep!
Since the majority of us can be vulnerable to low vitamin D levels in autumn and winter, Public Health England has recommended that we all take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. The amount they recommend is 10mcg3 but if you’re vegan or over 50, you may wish to consider increasing this dose. Just make sure you don’t go overboard – most health food stores stock vitamin D supplements that are far too strong, sometimes containing 3 or 4 times the recommended daily amount! It’s also important to remember that you can still get a good intake of vitamin D from your diet too!
Magnesium is one of the most crucial minerals for your health – it’s responsible for over 300 chemical reactions that take place within your body and as I’ve mentioned in my blog, ‘Is magnesium a miracle mineral for sleep?’ it’s also pretty important for your sleep patterns too!
This is because studies have found that magnesium can help to calm your nervous system. Since the root of many sleep problems lie in feelings of stress or anxiety, supporting your nervous system can really help to combat issues such as insomnia. Magnesium, in particular, helps to increase your levels of a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which can reduce feelings of fear and anxiety. Magnesium deficiencies have also been linked with RLS as low levels can cause spasms and cramps.
The good thing about magnesium is that, despite needing more of it than other nutrients (around 420mg is a conservative estimate!), it’s readily available in a wide variety of plant-based foods, from our familiar friend spinach to avocados and brown rice! If you really want to increase your intake of magnesium, I would look into including more fresh fruit and veg in your diet and going organic when possible. Also, try to avoid foods such as processed fats and caffeine, which can deplete your magnesium stores.
Omega-3 is top of mind for many people these days, often being associated with reducing inflammation and supporting your brain health. However, as I discuss in my blog, ‘Can omega 3 help to improve sleep?’ low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have previously been associated with weaker secretions of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
You also need omega-3 to regulate your levels of norepinephrine, a stress chemical that helps to support your REM sleep cycle. However, if you’re low in omega-3, you may be more susceptible to higher levels of norepinephrine which can disrupt your sleep!
When it comes to omega-3 deficiencies, generally vegans and vegetarians once again are most at risk. Although there are plant-based sources of ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that can be converted into the more active omega-3 fatty acids DHEA and EPA, this conversion can be quite inefficient in humans. DHEA and EPA are usually found in higher concentrations in oily fish and animal-derived food products so vegans can easily become susceptible to low levels of these omega-3 fatty acids. It’s a good thing then, that vegan-friendly omega-3 supplements are becoming more widely available.
When you think of potassium, you probably think of its relationship with sodium. The two exist in a delicate balance, helping to support healthy blood pressure levels. Outside of this familiar relationship, potassium is probably best known as an electrolyte, helping to support nerve reflexes throughout the body. It also helps to regulate bone-boosting minerals like calcium and phosphorus and ensures the proper growth of muscle tissues, working to stimulate muscle contractions!
Low levels of potassium aren’t quite as common as some of the other entrants on this list; however, they usually occur as a result of common medications such as diuretics or sometimes due to a prolonged spell of vomiting and diarrhoea. Recently, it’s also thought that a stereotypical Western diet of processed foods and refined sugar could be the reason why around 98% of Americans are falling low on their daily potassium needs so it might be worth bearing this in mind too!4
When it comes to sleep, the symptoms of a potassium deficiency are thought to play an indirect role in causing problems such as insomnia or sleep disruptions. Muscle cramps are one symptom that can have a real impact which makes sense when you think of how potassium helps to stimulate muscle contractions. It also doesn’t help that low levels of potassium have also been linked to daytime fatigue and mood problems. In fact, studies have found that 20% of patients with mental disorders were also deficient in potassium!5
If you’re looking to increase your intake of potassium, I would say your diet should be your first port of call. Most people associate potassium with bananas but actually, this mineral can be found in a variety of fresh fruit and veg, including sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kiwis and oranges!
Our Balance Mineral Drink also contains potassium so it might be a good option to consider if you’re looking for something to restore any electrolytes lost through exercise. It also works to combat symptoms of fatigue and contains other essential minerals like magnesium, zinc and calcium.