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Magnesium: The Mineral For Getting More ZZZZZ’s

Magnesium: The Mineral For Getting More ZZZZZ’s

Nearly 60% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium. If you have trouble sleeping, you may want to think about getting more of this mineral in your diet or from a supplement.

You may know that the liver is the workhorse of the digestive system and the most complex organ in the human body, responsible for performing approximately 500 functions in the body, perhaps much more than that. Well, consider magnesium the liver of the nutrient world. Magnesium is also needed to perform hundreds of biochemical reactions.

Many people know that this critical mineral is needed for normal nerve and muscle function. Got cramps at night? Get more magnesium in your diet. Playing a role in preserving bone density and maintaining a normal heart beat are a couple other tasks for which magnesium is well known.

But fewer people are aware of the fact that magnesium can help improve sleep quality. In fact, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences examined the effects of magnesium on sleep.

As the researchers pointed out, nearly 50% of older adults have insomnia, or with difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, or feeling unrefreshed upon waking. As we age, our circadian rhythms can be negatively altered. Also, the aging process typically causes a decline in nutrient absorption, including magnesium. 


Magnesium’s role in sleep

Magnesium helps induce more restful sleep by helping the brain relax. If you’re somebody who has trouble thinking too much at night, try meditation and magnesium. So how does magnesium affect brain activity? As the researchers explain, it is an agonist of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short. GABA is a neurotransmitter. Your brain has GABA receptors and magnesium binds to those receptors and stimulates them. The more that magnesium stimulates the GABA receptors, the more relaxed your brain activity will be. 

So the researchers put the theory to the test. The test was small, involving only 46 seniors, but the results were very encouraging. The seniors who took a 500 mg dose of magnesium every day for two months showed dramatically improved sleep quality markers. The researchers concluded that supplementation of magnesium appears to improve sleep time, the time it takes to fall asleep, wake-up time, and it also improved serum levels of renin, which is a hormone that helps normalize blood pressure. Not only that but magnesium was shown to improve levels of melatonin and cortisol. 


According to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, 57% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. It’s no wonder then that so many people have trouble with sleep. Now, we can’t draw definitive conclusions from one small research study. But the hypothesis that magnesium helps calm brain activity and therefore leads to better sleep outcomes makes sense on paper. 

Is a Magnesium Supplement Necessary?

After reading the statistic from the USDA above that nearly 60% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium from food, you would think that the government would recommend taking a supplement.

Yet check out what the National Institutes of Health’s Library of Medicine says about magnesium supplementation:

“There is ongoing research into the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. However, taking magnesium supplements is not currently advised.”

Come again?

Well, perhaps a second opinion is warranted. Actually, most mainstream medical websites urge caution against taking a magnesium supplement, mainly for two reasons:

First, it’s because a true magnesium deficiency is rare. However, while that may be true, a lack of a true deficiency doesn’t mean that you have optimum levels to stimulate GABA receptors in the brain. And secondly, mainstream health websites suggest that taking too much magnesium can backfire. 

While it’s true that taking excess magnesium can cause problems like diarrhea or worsen chronic kidney problems, the vast majority of people who take a supplement and follow the dosing instructions will not experience negative side effects. 


Best Form of Magnesium for Sleep

There are different forms of magnesium, i.e. citrate, chloride, sulfate and glycinate. So which one might be the best one for sleep support. For starters, try magnesium sulfate but don’t swallow it. That’s because magnesium sulfate is better known as Epsom Salt. Taking a warm Epsom Salt bath every night before bed will help your body relax.

The next best form of magnesium to take, one which you can swallow, is magnesium glycinate. The reason why is because “glycinate” is derived from the amino acid, glycine, which also helps stimulate GABA receptors. 

Best Magnesium Foods

According to the Cleveland Clinic, men should strive to consume about 400 mg of magnesium from food every day while an optimal daily value for women is slightly more than 300 mg.

The top 5 magnesium-rich foods according to Cleveland Clinic are:

  • Pumpkin seed - kernels: Serving Size 1 oz, 168 mg
  • Almonds, dry roasted: Serving Size 1 oz, 80 mg
  • Spinach, boiled: Serving Size ½ cup, 78 mg
  • Cashews, dry roasted: Serving Size 1 oz, 74 mg
  • Pumpkin seeds in shell: Serving Size 1 oz, 74 mg

Dark, leafy greens and cruciferous veggies along with nuts and seeds are the best sources of magnesium. As always, it’s best to get essential nutrients from food. But if you have trouble with sleep, perhaps taking a magnesium supplement should be what the doctor orders.

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