Sleep is vital for good health and even for survival. In fact, there’s a rare condition called familial insomnia where its unfortunate victims are unable to fall asleep and, ultimately, die from the effects of sleep deprivation. That’s how important sleep is to human functioning.
Despite its importance, research shows almost half of people sleep fewer than six hours of sleep per night. That’s not enough to meet your basic sleep requirements. Most experts believe 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night is optimal for health and vitality. Contrary to popular belief, researchers don’t believe that the elderly need less sleep, it’s just that they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. As an adult, sleep requirements don’t change much with age.
What if you struggle to fall asleep? Rather than drifting off to dreamland, you toss and turn and try every trick you can think of to get your body to relax. Insomnia isn’t unique to the elderly, it can be a problem at any age and is often related to stress. In some cases, sleep problems come and go but for others, it’s a nightly struggle to get even 7 hours of sleep. What can you do to get your sleep in order?
Addressing stress-related factors that contribute to insomnia is the first priority. Once you’ve done that, you look at dietary changes and supplements that might promote better sleep. Could one of those be magnesium?
Magnesium and Sleep
Magnesium is a mineral involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body. So, you know it’s important if so many reactions depend upon it, and there’s some evidence that getting more it can help you sleep more soundly. How do we know this?
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a marker of a high-quality study, found that elderly subjects who supplemented with magnesium enjoyed better sleep and were able to sleep more hours. They also woke up less frequently during the night. For the study, the participants took 320 milligrams of magnesium citrate for 7 weeks. However, the participants were all over the age of 50, so it’s not clear whether magnesium improves sleep quality in younger people.
Another promising study also looked at the effects of magnesium on sleep quality in older adults. As people age, their sleep patterns change, and these changes are reflected in changes in their brain waves. Scientists can visualize brain waves using an electroencephalogram (EEG). When you look at an EEG tracing of an older person, you see a reduction in slow-wave sleep. That’s important since slow-wave sleep is the time when your body repairs and “keeps house.” Studies show that the brain clears misfolded proteins in the brain during deep sleep through a special lymphatic system called the g-lymphatics. Therefore, sleep is a form of detox for the brain and nervous system.
In the study, the participants took effervescent magnesium tablets for 20 days while the researchers monitored their brain waves during sleep. The results? Magnesium improved sleep quality, and the amount of slow-wave sleep the subjects enjoyed increased.
How Does a Magnesium Supplement Improve Sleep Quality?
It’s not clear exactly how magnesium enhances sleep duration and sleep quality. Magnesium helps regulate the body’s stress response, and that may be one of the ways it helps with sleep. When you feel calm, it’s easier to drift off to sleep and stay asleep. One way magnesium promotes calmness is by increasing levels of GABA, a brain chemical that helps with relaxation.
Are Magnesium Supplements Safe?
Supplementing with magnesium is safe for most people, but always consult your physician before taking a new supplement. Magnesium supplements can interfere with some medications and it may not be safe to take one if you have a bleeding disorder, kidney problems, certain heart conditions, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. When in doubt, ask your physician.
However, magnesium is a safer alternative than most medications doctors prescribe to relieve insomnia, so it’s a good starting place when lifestyle changes are ineffective. According to WebMD.com, taking 350 milligrams of magnesium daily is safe for most adults. However, it can have side effects, including vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
Magnesium may have other benefits too, especially since studies show that around 68% of Americans don’t get enough of this mineral. Studies link magnesium deficiency with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Magnesium seems to modestly reduce blood pressure too.
The Bottom Line
Insomnia is a common and frustrating problem. There’s some evidence that a magnesium supplement can improve sleep quality and is safer than taking prescription medications for insomnia. Plus, research shows that 68% of the American population may not get enough magnesium through diet alone.
Why is magnesium deficiency so common? One culprit is the highly processed diet many people in Western countries eat. Ultra-processed foods aren’t rich in magnesium and many people eat a diet of mostly processed foods. Plus, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, certain medical conditions, stress, excessive sweating, chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, and some medications can lower your body’s magnesium stores.
Not getting enough magneisum? Fortunately, you can change that. Start by adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet. Good sources are nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and seeds. If that doesn’t help, talk to your physician about taking a magnesium supplement. Also, make get a physical exam and rule out such conditions as sleep apnea and other sleep disorders as a cause of your insomnia.
Here are some other tips for treating insomnia:
- Keep the temperature of your sleeping area around 65 degrees F.
- Go to sleep and wake up each day at the same time.
- Avoid caffeine after 12:00 p.m.
- Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime.
- Sleep in complete darkness to maximize melatonin release.
- Keep electronic out of your sleeping area.
- Exercise regularly.
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