5 Reasons Why Magnesium Helps You Sleep
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A 2022 Nuffield Health ‘Healthier Nation Index’ survey of 8,000 UK adults revealed that 1 in 10 people are only getting between 2 - 4 hours of sleep a night, nearly three quarters of the survey participants experienced poorer sleep compared with 2021 and 1 in 4 people reported suffering from insomnia. There are many diet and lifestyle factors that can impact sleep. In this article we take a closer look at the links between magnesium and sleep, and why the supplement form of magnesium glycinate may be a useful consideration as part of a sleep support plan.
Short and long-term effects of poor sleep.
Regularly not getting enough good quality sleep can have short term effects on daily function and how you think and feel. Research shows that in all age groups, individuals who suffer from insomnia show memory weakness, increased reaction time, short-term memory problems, and lowered efficacy level.1 The longer term health effects of lack of sleep can be devastating too. Hand in hand with lack of sleep come an increased risk of health problems such as anxiety and depression, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, diabetes, immune system imbalances, gut dysbiosis and many more.
The harsh effects of lack of sleep are perfectly summed up by neuroscientist Matthew Walker in his brilliant best-selling book, Why We Sleep. He writes, “the elastic band of sleep deprivation can only stretch so far before it snaps”.
So we know lack of sleep has the potential for widespread negative health effects, but what can we do about it?
There are many factors contributing to poor sleep, and if this is something you need to address, it’s crucial to look at the whole picture. Just one of those factors is low magnesium. Nowadays, nutrient-depleted soils, highly refined and processed Western diets and busy, stressful lifestyles mean that many people don’t get enough magnesium, yet this mighty mineral has a vital role to play in supporting healthy sleep. In an analysis of responses from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) taken between 2005 – 2015, researchers found that of about 26,000 adults surveyed, many got less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night, and those that were sleeping less also tended not to have adequate intakes of essential vitamins and minerals including magnesium.
If you’re looking to improve your sleep, adding extra magnesium could be a great place to start.
Here’s a closer look at the science behind magnesium’s vital role in sleep and why supplementing in the form of magnesium glycinate may deliver added benefits.
“Magnesium is an essential element that is crucial to hundreds of physiologic processes in humans. Not surprisingly, inadequate intake of magnesium has been linked to various adverse health outcomes, including sleep disorders.”1
1. Magnesium has a key ‘calming’ role to play in neural transmission at a cellular level.
Research has acknowledged the role of magnesium in the regulation of central nervous system excitability.1 Magnesium is an NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartic acid) receptor antagonist and a GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) agonist.2 In simple terms this means magnesium has an overall calming and relaxing effect on the nervous system – hence why it is often nicknamed ‘nature’s tranquiliser’. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that helps to promote sleep, and interestingly, the therapeutic aim of many prescription sleeping tablets is to increase levels of GABA. Magnesium may help to support GABA naturally but without unwanted side effects.
2. Magnesium regulates the HPA axis, which in turn may help to support restful sleep.
When you’re stressed or anxious at night, the brain powers into overdrive, racing with thoughts instead of shutting down. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, and prepares your body for intense physical activity, or to ‘fight or take flight’. Hormones such as cortisol are released and as you’ve probably guessed, this can have a negative impact on sleep. In this ‘hyper-aroused’ state it can be a challenge to fall asleep, stay asleep and the quality of sleep is often compromised too. So how does magnesium help with all this? Magnesium is involved in regulating the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical) axis, which in simple terms means that magnesium may help to balance stress. Under stress, more magnesium is used up and eliminated from your system,3-4 so if you’re stressed, you may need to up your dietary intake of magnesium to balance these increased needs. Some research studies have shown that supplementation with magnesium helps to reduce serum cortisol.5 Multiple studies have also demonstrated improved stress response, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects of magnesium supplementation.6-10
3. Magnesium is an important co-factor needed for melatonin production.
Robust melatonin production is an important hallmark of a healthy circadian rhythm and is crucial for sleep regulation. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland in response to darkness. It is made from the enzymatic conversion of serotonin to melatonin and several nutrient co-factors, including magnesium are required for this to happen.
4. Magnesium supports vitamin D
Low vitamin D has been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects and growing evidence suggests that vitamin D is involved in sleep regulation too.11 Research shows that vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of sleep disorders and is associated with shorter sleep time and sleep difficulties in both children and adults.12-14 The exact mechanisms by which vitamin D influences sleep are not completely understood, however it may in part be due to vitamin D’s role in melatonin regulation.15 Vitamin D receptors have also been identified on brainstem ‘pacemaker cells’ that play an important role in regulating sleep.16-18 But what does this have to do with magnesium? Put simply, magnesium is important for activating vitamin D and therefore low magnesium has the potential to impact the sleep regulatory role of vitamin D.19
5. Glycine combines well with magnesium to support sleep.
Magnesium is very chemically reactive and can’t be taken on its own in a supplement – therefore it’s usually attached to something else. The substance magnesium is attached to in a supplement not only affects factors such as absorption and gut tolerability but provides additional physiological activity too. It’s important to consider this when selecting your magnesium supplement. Read more about this here. The supplement form of magnesium glycinate is magnesium attached to the amino acid called glycine. When you take this form, not only do you get magnesium but you get additional effects from the glycine too, and these are particularly relevant for supporting calm, relaxation and sleep. Glycine readily crosses the blood brain barrier and has a calming effect on the brain. Sleep and body temperature are closely linked and glycine seems to be able to lower body temperature by modulating NMDA receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – our 24 hr biological body clock – and this has the potential to positively impact sleep.20 Some human studies have demonstrated improvements in sleep following glycine supplementation before bedtime, and without ‘groggy’ side effects the next day.21 In fact, some studies have shown that glycine supplementation in sleep-deprived study participants results in improved reaction times and reports of feeling more refreshed during the day.22
Are you getting enough of the mighty relaxation mineral?
Magnesium is commonly referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ – it is the relaxation mineral that helps to calm both mind and body before bed. From its involvement in regulating the central nervous system, supporting GABA and HPA axis balance to its roles in supporting vitamin D activity and melatonin production, it’s difficult to overestimate the potential widespread activity of magnesium when it comes to sleep. If you’re regularly ‘not getting enough’ sleep, perhaps it’s time to assess whether you’re ‘getting enough’ magnesium in your diet? And if you’re considering taking a magnesium supplement, remember it’s important to choose a form that matches your reasons for taking it. Magnesium glycinate is a form that helps to support calm, relaxation and sleep. This powerful mineral is relaxing in nature, yet mighty in force.
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker
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4. Henrotte JG, Franck G, Santarromana M, Frances H, Mouton D, Motta R. Mice selected for low and high blood magnesium levels: a new model for stress studies. Physiol Behav. 1997; 61: 653–8.
5. Held K, Antonijevic IA, et al. Oral Mg2+ supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002; 35: 135–43
6. Wienecke E, Nolden C. Long-term HRV analysis shows stress reduction by magnesium intake. MMW Fortschr Med. 2016 Dec; 158(Suppl 6): 12-16.
7. Pouteau E, Kabir-Ahmadi M, Mazur A & Noah L. Superiority of magnesium and vitamin B6 over magnesium alone on severe stress in healthy adults with low magnesemia: A randomised, single-blind clinical trial. PLoS ONE 13(12): e0208454. December 2018
8. Boyle NB, Lawton C et al. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress – a systematic review. Nutrients 2017 May; 9(5): 429
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13. Al-Shawwa B, Ehsan Z et al. Vitamin D and sleep in children. J. Clin. Sleep Med. JCSM Off. Publ. Am. Acad. Sleep Med. 2020; 16: 1119–1123.]
14. Gao Q, Kou T et al. The Association between Vitamin D Deficiency and Sleep Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2018; 10:1395.
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16. Stumpf WE, Bidmon HJ et al. Nuclear receptor sites for vitamin D-soltriol in midbrain and hindbrain of Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus) assessed by autoradiography. Histochemistry. 1992; 98: 155–164.
17. Stumpf WE, O’Brien LP. 1,25 (OH)2 vitamin D3 sites of action in the brain. An autoradiographic study. Histochemistry. 1987; 87: 393–406.
18. Abboud M. Vitamin D supplementation and sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. Nutrients 2022 Mar; 14(5): 1076.
19. 19. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH. Magnesium and vitamin D deficiency as a potential cause of immune dysfunction, cytokine storm and disseminated intravascular coagulation in Covid-19 patients. Mo Med. 2021 Jan-Feb; 118(1): 68-73.
20. Kawai N, Sakai N et al. The sleep-promoting and hypothermic effects of glycine are mediated by NMDA receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, Neuropsychopharmacology 40(6) (2015) 1405-16
21. Yamadera WI, Chiba K et al. Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes, Sleep and Biological Rhythms 5 (2007).
22. M. Bannai, N. Kawai et al. The effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers, Front Neurol 3 (2012) 61.
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