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Tired of Counting Sheep? A Low-Sodium Diet May Be the Sneaky Cause of Your Insomnia

Doctors reveal how to boost your levels safely — it can be as easy as relaxing in a bath

We all have trouble dozing off now and then. And while you may attribute your insomnia to sipping coffee at night or a stressful day, it turns out there may be a more surprising culprit: Your salt intake. A viral post on social media has linked the two, but can low sodium cause insomnia? Here, experts explain the link between salt intake and sleep, plus reveal how eating more salt may help you drift off.

Can low sodium cause insomnia?

A trending Instagram post by cardiovascular research scientist James DiNicolantonio, PhD, suggests the problem with your sleep might be a lack of sodium in your diet. Many people assume salt is unhealthy based on its reputation.

However, it’s an essential nutrient that contributes to various bodily processes, including blood pressure regulation and nerve and muscle function. Most of us get enough salt from food and drink. But a low-sodium diet can leave you deficient, increasing the risk of sleep problems.

“Low sodium intake can trigger your body’s fight-or-flight survival mechanism,” explains celebrity nutritionist and gut health expert Daryl Gioffre, DC. “This mechanism keeps you alert and ready to deal with perceived threats, but it isn’t conducive to rest and healing. When sodium levels are too low, your body compensates by increasing the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.” These hormones cause an energy spike, affecting your ability to nod off.

“When you don’t get enough sodium, it’s like a car running low on fuel,” explains Chelsea Perry, DMD, a dentist and dental sleep medicine specialist. “Your body struggles to keep everything working properly, affecting your sleep.”

How to tell if low sodium is the cause of your insomnia

mature woman in doctor's office getting a blood test for low sodium

Almost everyone experiences insomnia occasionally. But if your symptoms continue for more than a few weeks and affect your ability to concentrate or get things done, identifying the cause is crucial.

“Consult your doctor for a blood test to check your sodium levels if you suspect low sodium is affecting your sleep,” says Praveen Guntipalli, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician in Dallas, Texas. “Normal sodium levels in human blood range from 135-145 mEq/L [milliequivalents per liter].” Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, occurs if your blood sodium levels fall below this range. As a result, low sodium levels can cause insomnia and other health problems.

See also: Tossing and Turning at Night? Ashwagandha Is an Ancient Herb That Deepens Sleep Naturally

3 healthy ways to boost sodium and ease insomnia

If your doctor determines you have low blood sodium, there are several things you can do to balance your levels and reverse this sneaky cause of insomnia.

1. Savor a square of cheese

mature woman eating cheese on crackers in her kitchen
Grace Cary/Getty

Dr. Perry says including naturally salty foods in your meals, like cheese and olives, is a great starting point. Dr. Gioffre agrees, noting that celery, beets, carrots and leafy greens like Swiss chard are nutritious and sodium-rich.

“Eating salty snacks like pretzels can also help, but do it in moderation to avoid too much salt,” suggests Dr. Perry. “Drinking electrolyte beverages [like Gatorade or Pedialyte] is another good option, especially if you’re active and sweat a lot.”

2. Jot down what you eat

Also smart: Reviewing your dietary habits to make sure you’re getting the right amount of salt to ward off insomnia. The FDA recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily, but that number varies from person to person.

Dr. Gioffre suggests keeping a food diary to ensure you aren’t consuming too little salt. For a week, write down everything you eat and drink. Be sure to include the food’s sodium content, which is listed on nutrition labels. Once you start to get the larger picture of your daily sodium intake and how much is found in each food, you’ll know if you’re in a shortfall.

“Reading nutrition labels should become a daily practice in general,” Dr. Gioffre says. “It will help you make more informed choices about the foods you eat and ensure you’re meeting your needs.” You can also track your sodium with free apps like Sodium Tracker & Counter (for Apple) and Sodium Tracker (for Android).

3. Draw an Epsom salt soak

Good news for those who like to unwind in the tub after a long day: A soothing soak can boost low sodium levels, too. “Take a bath with Epsom salt and sodium bicarbonate [baking soda],” suggests Dr. Gioffre. “These two high alkaline mineral salts will infuse into your bloodstream transdermally,” meaning you’ll increase your salt levels by absorbing it through the skin.

To get the benefits, add 2 cups of Epsom salt and 1 cup of baking soda to a warm bath. Then soak for 20 minutes about an hour before bed. Bonus: A relaxing bath eases stiff muscles and soothes stress, both of which can help you outsmart insomnia.

Related: The Bath Add-In That Makes Any Soak Instantly More Soothing — 4 Easy DIY Recipes

For more ways to get longer, deeper sleep each night:

Doctors Reveal the Best Sleep Apnea Self-Care Tips + the 1 Thing You Should Never Do

“Listening to Music in This Healing Frequency Cured My Insomnia and Brain Fog”  

Study: Lack of Sleep Raises Diabetes Risk — Docs Share Easy Tricks to Get More Zzz’s

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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