Reading this with tired eyes? You might just be deficient in the one of the most important substances for increased performance. No, we aren’t talking protein or BCAAs—you may be deficient in sleep.
If so, you’re missing out on the mental and physical performance benefits that a night of restful sleep can provide. But, after trying so many different solutions, maybe you’ve found yourself still unable to get quality shuteye.
As it turns out, one small but essential mineral may play a not-so-small role in how well you sleep. That mineral is magnesium, and it might just be the Sandman of nutrients. Can magnesium help you lull off to a restorative slumber?
Magnesium (Mg) is one of the 24 essential minerals and vitamins. Essential, meaning that we need to consume these nutrients in our diet since our body cannot synthesize, or manufacture them, on its own.
Found in food sources like dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts, squash, broccoli, dairy, meat, legumes, and unprocessed whole grains, magnesium has a role in more body functions than you may think (and some pretty critical ones too). Whether it’s making sure your heart beats properly or helping to promote bone mineral absorption, magnesium is a real physiological M.V.P.
The problem is, many of us may fail to get enough of certain nutrients from dietary sources alone. Whether due to an inadequate intake of nutrient-rich foods or the fact that many of our foods are now themselves nutrient-deficient, it may sometimes be hard to get enough. About 50% of Americans aren’t getting as much magnesium as they need.1 This is an issue, since magnesium helps promote overall health and well-being, with a supporting role in proper muscle function, bone health, and keeping a lower blood pressure.
Conversely, magnesium deficiencies are associated with a high blood pressure and a greater risk for many diseases of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system, among other negative health conditions.1
Could it be a coincidence then, that research shows nearly one-in-three adult men and women don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, and 35% report trouble sleeping and getting “poor” to “only fair” sleep quality?
The fact that magnesium helps regulate several aspects of sleep points to a possible link between magnesium deficiencies and the epidemic of sleep loss seen around the world.
Even those who aren’t deficient, however, can benefit from the role that magnesium plays in a restful sleep. Sleep is one frontier where the benefits of magnesium supplementation are being realized. What role could this essential mineral have for you in slumberland?
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Among the many symptoms of magnesium deficiency, (including muscle cramps, changes in mood, or muscle weakness) trouble sleeping may be one of the most annoying and detrimental symptoms as far your well being is concerned. We need proper sleep to think, perform, and be civil human beings to each other. How does magnesium work into the equation?
Running low on magnesium could throw off sleep cycles, leading to some restless nights and not-so-productive next mornings. The ability of magnesium deficiencies to impair sleep is likely because magnesium plays a major role in the central nervous system, controlling excitability and activation of certain neurons.
Magnesium deficiency may also impair sleep by increasing overall worry and anxiety. Patients with anxiety and depression have been shown to have low levels of magnesium.22 It has been demonstrated that the anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effects of magnesium are due, in part, to its effects of antagonizing (blocking) NMDA receptors and possibly lowering the activity of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which is implicated in some forms of anxiety.3 For this reason, magnesium could promote a calm night of sleep, and a lack of it could promote a night of tossing and turning.
Put some greens on your plate. Lower dietary intake of magnesium is associated with symptoms of poor quality sleep.
Magnesium deficiency is associated with sleep disturbances, nighttime agitation, and depression.4 Women surveyed for a study who were in the highest self-reported magnesium intake group reported a lower likelihood of falling asleep during the day;5 they seemed to be more rested than their magnesium-stingy peers. In the same study, men and women in the two lowest magnesium intake groups had more people reporting sleep of less than seven hours per night.
While correlation doesn't equal causation, the findings that a low intake of magnesium is associated with poor sleep indicate the possibility that the two are intricately related.
In a study of rats, a magnesium-deficient diet induced alterations in sleep patterns. Restricting magnesium intake in the diet increased nighttime wakefulness by 50%, reduced recovery-promoting slow-wave sleep (SWS) by 24%, and lowered the total time spent sleeping.6 What happened when the diet returned to normal? You guessed it, better sleep.
Why might a low amount of magnesium (especially in the brain) correlate with poor sleep? It may have to do with adrenaline, one of the sympathetic “fight or flight” hormones, since lower magnesium is associated with increased stress hormone signaling. No doubt about it, if you’re trying to escape a tiger, there isn’t much time to hit the hay. Stress hormones are perfect for game time, but not so perfect for bedtime.
Magnesium also regulates a variety of neurotransmitters, cardiovascular processes like blood pressure and temperature, and muscular relaxation—all of which play a role in promoting (or preventing) sleep. So, reversing even a minor deficiency or boosting your magnesium levels above your baseline could have major impacts on your health. For this reason, magnesium supplements may be a great way to promote sleep for rest and recovery along with many other wellness gains.
Sleep like a baby...or your grandma? Newborn babies with higher levels of magnesium have better overall sleep,7 and the aging-related declines in sleep quality seen in older adults can be reversed with magnesium supplementation.8 At any age, it seems, magnesium turns you to a sound sleeper.
One reason for the sleep-promoting effects of magnesium is that it quiets the body and the mind, priming the nervous system for sleep, and acting as a stress reducer.
Magnesium is a massage therapist for your brain, relaxing neurons and relieving the tension of stress and worry which promote a calmer state of mind.
Supplementing with magnesium helps improve biomarkers of stress including a higher heart rate variability (HRV) and increased parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity9—both indicate less stress and perhaps better recovery. Chronic inflammation, another indicator of a body under duress, can be alleviated by supplementing with magnesium.10
Pull an all-nighter? Magnesium might help you recover. After a night of sleep deprivation, higher magnesium levels were shown to be protective and promote longer and higher quality recovery sleep.11 The better cognitive recovery could be due to magnesium’s action as a cofactor in the synthesis of glycogen in the brain or because it helped to promote less sleep disruption, characterized by less waking episodes throughout the night.
Poor sleep is often a consequence of a disturbed circadian rhythm, the “clocks” in all body organs that regulate metabolism and sleep-wake cycles. Magnesium has been shown to play a critical role in regulating these biological timekeepers by maintaining proper function of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), our body's master clock.12
Sleep cycles are also kept in line by the “sleep molecule” melatonin. Levels of magnesium and melatonin are correlated, and supplementing with magnesium has been shown to increase the amount of melatonin floating around the brain and body by 35%.13
The potency of magnesium for regulating sleep is evidenced in its ability to help in one of the worst sleep disorders of them all—insomnia, known as habitual sleeplessness, trouble sleeping, or the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This may be you, if countless nights are spent staring at the ceiling thinking of past mistakes (“why did I tweet that!?”) or worrying about an upcoming project. Have no fear, magnesium is here to help.
Magnesium has been used extensively and effectively to treat insomnia. Giving 500mg of magnesium per day for eight weeks increased the sleep time, efficiency, and melatonin levels of insomnia patients.13 Supplementing has also been shown to reduce nightly periodic leg movements (PLMs) and arousals, symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS), and boost alertness and behavior the next day after a night of sleep in people being treated for insomnia.14,15
A diet that promotes overall adequate levels of magnesium should be goal number one when it comes to improving your sleep and health. A first step might be trying to incorporate some magnesium-rich foods into your diet, including leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, even dark chocolate. But, sometimes diet isn’t enough, and supplementing becomes the next best option.
For sleep specifically, dosing supplemental magnesium should be done carefully; as both too much and not enough of a dose may lead to sleep problems.16
If taken at the correct dose in the ideal proximity to bed time, magnesium supplements can promote sleep above and beyond benefits gained from a dietary boost on its own.
While there aren’t any dosage “guidelines,” 350mg for adults might do the trick if taken 1 - 2 hours before you tuck in for the night. Along with sleep promotion, this will also help ward off general deficiencies.
Magnesium-containing nootropics may also be a great way to consume this mineral along with a cornucopia of other compounds.
One of the reasons magnesium has shown such benefits for sleep is that it works like many of the common sleep aids you can buy over-the-counter (Ambien ring a bell?) These medications work their magic by acting on GABA receptors and promoting sleep through neuro-inhibitory mechanisms.
But, the sleep induced by these common medications doesn’t resemble natural sleep. Instead, these pharmaceuticals produce a lower brain wave power during sleep, and this means a less restorative night.17 This is why natural sleep supplements like magnesium are more beneficial; they act on the same sleep-inducing pathways without the side effects.
Compared to over-the-counter sleep medications, the side effects of magnesium supplementation are extremely low.
Employing magnesium before bed might be easier, and less time-consuming than that nightly deep nasal breathing routine you keep trying to no avail. Supplementing with magnesium could be one simple hack to increase quantity and quality of sleep. You want to perform your best, whether that’s on the field or in the boardroom. Sleep is the way to get there. And magnesium is the way to get better sleep.
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|1.||Costello RB, Elin RJ, Rosanoff A, et al. Perspective: The Case for an Evidence-Based Reference Interval for Serum Magnesium: The Time Has Come. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(6):977-993.|
|2.||Poleszak E, Wlaź P, Wróbel A, Fidecka S, Nowak G. NMDA/glutamate mechanism of magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice. Pharmacol Rep. 2008;60(5):655-63.|
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|9.||Wienecke E, Nolden C. [Long-term HRV analysis shows stress reduction by magnesium intake]. MMW Fortschr Med. 2016;158(Suppl 6):12-16.|
|10.||Nielsen FH, Johnson LK, Zeng H. Magnesium supplementation improves indicators of low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults older than 51 years with poor quality sleep. Magnes Res. 2010;23(4):158-68.|
|11.||Chollet D, Franken P, Raffin Y, Malafosse A, Widmer J, Tafti M. Blood and brain magnesium in inbred mice and their correlation with sleep quality. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2000;279(6):R2173-8.|
|12.||Durlach J, Pagès N, Bac P, Bara M, Guiet-bara A. Biorhythms and possible central regulation of magnesium status, phototherapy, darkness therapy and chronopathological forms of magnesium depletion. Magnes Res. 2002;15(1-2):49-66.|
|13.||Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012;17(12):1161-9.|
|14.||Hornyak M, Voderholzer U, Hohagen F, Berger M, Riemann D. Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study. Sleep. 1998;21(5):501-5.|
|15.||Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Monteferrario F, Antoniello N, Manni R, Klersy C. The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(1):82-90.|
|16.||Chollet D, Franken P, Raffin Y, et al. Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models. Behav Genet. 2001;31(5):413-25.|
|17.||Uygun DS, Ye Z, Zecharia AY, et al. Bottom-Up versus Top-Down Induction of Sleep by Zolpidem Acting on Histaminergic and Neocortex Neurons. J Neurosci. 2016;36(44):11171-11184.|
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