Having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep is a common problem in 13% to 33% of Australian adults. Although we often think that a having few late nights is perfectly normal, chronic lack of sleep can have serious health consequences.
Poor quality sleep or not enough sleep has been linked with increased risk in depression, overweight, heart disease and can affect our ability to function mentally and learn effectively. However, a mineral commonly found in nature and supplementation may be the answer, as it can influence the quality and quantity of our sleep. That mineral is magnesium.
Magnesium has been associated with improving sleep phases as it is a natural NMDA receptor antagonist and a GABA agonist, which increases relaxation and facilitates sleep. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce serum cortisol levels, helping sleep onset and improving sleep quality.
Are you at risk of insomnia?
If you fall into any of the following categories and do not have good sleep habits, you may be a risk of insomnia:
- overweight or obese
- shift worker
- suffer chronic pain
- have heart disease
- have a respiratory disorder
- suffer from restless leg syndrome
- consume large amounts of caffeinated beverages or alcohol
- use recreational drugs
- suffer any mental health issue, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.3
But even if you do not fall into any of the above categories, we can all suffer from insomnia at some point because simply ageing (i.e. being 45 years or older) increases our risk. In fact, up to 50% of all older adults experience insomnia.
How simply getting older affects our sleep
As we get older our sleep patterns tend to change. Most people report having a harder time falling asleep, waking more often, or feeling unrefreshed in the morning. This is due to changes in our nervous system, which affects the hormones and processes involved in sleep regulation.4 Other factors that affect our sleep as we age include changes in our environment, poor lifestyle choices, and the level and quality of the foods we eat.5 One of the nutrients that we may be deficient in is magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency affects insomnia
Chronic insomnia is one of the main symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Those with low magnesium often experience restless sleep with frequent waking during the night. However, in many cases of insomnia dietary intake may not be enough and supplementation is required.
Taking magnesium supplements may rebalance our sleep patterns
Magnesium supplementation improves sleep quality and helps with insomnia linked to restless-leg syndrome, anxiety or depression. It also supports our nervous system as we age by balancing our hormones and nerve signals to improve sleep.8 Research has shown that 500mg of magnesium given for eight weeks improved sleep efficiency and length, early morning awakening and hormone concentrations.
Magnesium deficiency is very common, so it is important to make sure we have adequate levels, either through food, supplements or both, especially if you suffer from any sleep concerns or are at higher risk of insomnia. Science has shown numerous times that sleep is critical for our overall health and wellbeing, so it is worthwhile thinking about improving your daily magnesium intake.
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Bartlett DJ, Marshall NS, Williams A, et al. Sleep health New South Wales: chronic sleep restriction and daytime sleepiness. Intern Med J 2008; 38(1): 24-31.
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Held K, Antonijevic IA, Kunzel H, et al. Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry 2002; 35(4): 135-143.
Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res in Med Sci 2012; 17(12): 1161-69.
Hornyak M, Voderholzer U, Hohagen F, et al. Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless leg syndrome: an open pilot study. Sleep 1998; 21(5): 501-505.
Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutr J 2010; 7(9): 42.
Nielsen FH. Relation between Magnesium Deficiency and Sleep Disorders and Associated Pathological Changes. In Watson RR. Modulation of Sleep by Obesity, Diabetes, Age, and Diet. 2015;291-296.