Sleep is an essential part of life - we can’t live without it. Despite this, in almost 1/3 of the adult population sleep expectations are not being met, with these individuals reporting difficulty either falling and/or staying asleep. A sleep disorder characterised by unsatisfactory quantity and/or quality of sleep, which persists for a considerable period of time, is known as insomnia.
A lack of sleep is often comorbid with other physical or mental disorders. With sleep needs varying across the lifespan, sleep may be considered “inadequate” when there is daytime sleepiness or dysfunction. Daytime dysfunction is often associated with memory weakness, decreased reaction time, short-term memory problems, and in the elderly can increase the risk of falling and contribute to cognitive impairment and weak physical function.
Although there are many factors which may impact a good night’s sleep, including poor sleep hygiene, exposure to artificial light and stimulants closer to bed, there are certain nutrient deficiencies that may also impact our sleep.
Magnesium is an essential mineral which our body relies on for over 300 biochemical processes, including energy metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis. An inadequate intake of magnesium can cause a dysregulation of our natural biorhythms such as sleep. Magnesium is the ultimate “chill pill” and plays a critical role in sleep regulation because it works to:
- Enhance the secretion of melatonin, a key hormone which regulates our body clock’s cycle of sleep and wakefulness.
- Bind to GABA receptors, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter which helps us relax and ultimately promote sleep.
In addition to sleepless nights, a magnesium deficiency may be associated with symptoms such as muscular weakness and spasms, as well as numbness and cramps.
How much magnesium do I need to assist with my sleep?
In a double-blind randomised controlled trial, magnesium oxide was administered twice daily (Total magnesium: 500mg) to elderly people experiencing insomnia. After 8 weeks there was a significant improvement in sleep time, sleep onset and sleep efficiency, as well as a reduction in early morning wakening.
Getting the most out of your magnesium...
Our dietary intake, as well as renal and gastrointestinal function can help to finely balance and maintain our serum magnesium concentrations. As magnesium absorption starts within one hour of ingestion, it is important to avoid combining magnesium supplements with foods which may hinder its absorption including: caffeine, fibre-rich foods, alcohol and excess saturated fat.
How else can I get magnesium?
It’s always best to focus on diet first. Dietary sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts, fish and cocoa. Generally our Western Diets are lower in magnesium-rich foods, compounded by the fact that our soil is also deplete in this mineral. Therefore, in some people, particularly those experiencing deficiency signs and symptoms, a supplement may be most suited. If you are concerned about your magnesium levels, see your doctor to have your levels checked.
Final word on magnesium.
In general, studies suggest a magnesium deficiency can contribute to inadequate sleep. For those really early risers, who are also experiencing sleepless nights, ensuring you are getting enough magnesium in your diet, as well as supplementation is a good place to start. As a multifactorial and often debilitating condition, addressing the various factors associated with poor sleep should also be considered.