Sleep disorders can lead to distress and discomfort, impaired daytime functioning, and serious physical and mental health complications.
According to some theorists, the ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, believed that poor nutrition was the main cause of insomnia. If you have been experiencing sleep issues, someone may have recommended you take magnesium supplements.
So, what does modern science tell us about magnesium and sleep? Does it play a significant role in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep? If magnesium does help with sleep, how do you get it and how do you make sure you have enough of it?
Magnesium is a metallic chemical element which is vital for both human and plant life. Magnesium is one of thirteen mineral nutrients that come from soil, and when dissolved in water, is absorbed through a plant’s roots. Magnesium is the powerhouse behind photosynthesis in plants. Without magnesium, chlorophyll cannot capture sun energy needed for photosynthesis, and the plants will not thrive. But what about humans?
Magnesium is an essential micronutrient for people, too. It plays a role in over 300 enzyme reactions in the human body. It helps with muscle and nerve function, regulating blood pressure, and supporting the immune system. Research has linked magnesium deficiency with a range of health conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and migraine.
Research indicates that taking a magnesium supplement can improve sleep overall in otherwise healthy people. Magnesium regulates cellular timekeeping in both animal and plant cells. So, it is believed that magnesium helps maintain the normal circadian rhythms, supporting quality sleep in humans.
Research focusing on magnesium indicates that adults over 50 with lower than recommended levels of magnesium are more likely to experience poor sleep, and that using a magnesium supplement has a positive impact on insomnia symptoms among older people. Studies have shown that magnesium levels are a predictor of sleep quality in otherwise healthy people.
Low magnesium intake has been found to be significantly associated with depression, and it is known that depression is associated with poor sleep. However, the studies on dietary magnesium and sleep are limited and more research is required.
Magnesium inadequacy or deficiency can result from a diet low in essential nutrients, high sugar intake, excess consumption of alcohol, a side effect of certain medications, and some health conditions, including gastrointestinal disorder and diabetes.
The World Health Organisation has identified that because of food habits, many people in most countries fail to obtain the recommended intakes of magnesium from their diets. A blood test will reveal your body’s levels of nutrients such as magnesium. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or weakness and muscle cramps. If you have any of these symptoms you should see your health professional.
There are three main ways of increasing your magnesium levels:
In your food. Dietary sources of magnesium include dairy products, vegetables, grain, fruits and nuts. You may be able to get sufficient magnesium from the food and water you consume. However, agricultural practices, food refinement, soil depletion and water treatment all have a detrimental effect on natural magnesium levels.
Through your skin. Add to your bath or spray on your skin. You can increase your magnesium levels by adding Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to your bath. In a recent study, all subjects experienced increased magnesium levels from soaking in a bath enriched with magnesium sulphate crystals, commonly known as Epsom Salt. Magnesium solutions are readily available over the counter. Spraying your skin may be more convenient than taking a bath.
By taking a magnesium supplement. Many sleep remedies contain magnesium, and magnesium supplements are readily available over the counter. Be aware though that certain foods or drugs, some medical conditions, even the individual chemistry of a person's stomach acid, can interfere with the effectiveness of oral magnesium supplements. If you are unsure, speak to a healthcare professional.
It is important to get adequate amounts of magnesium, and this can generally be achieved by eating magnesium-rich foods such as spinach and almonds, or through skin absorption such as bath salts or sprays. Because your body generally excretes any excess magnesium, side effects are rare. However, taking magnesium supplements, or other medications that contain magnesium (such as laxatives) in large quantities could be harmful. Magnesium overdose can lead to low blood pressure, drowsiness, muscle weakness, slowed breathing, and in rare cases, even death. It is important — especially if you have kidney problems — to speak to your health professional before you start taking magnesium supplements.
Having adequate magnesium levels in your body can assist with sleep quality and quantity. As part of your sleep hygiene, make sure you have a well-balanced diet rich in all essential micronutrients. Consider adding a warm Epsom salts bath or a magnesium spray to your bedtime routine to help ensure your sleep will be the best it can be. If your magnesium levels are not adequate, a magnesium supplement designed to help you sleep may be helpful if used in the correct doses.