Reading this with tired eyes? You might just be deficient in the one of the most important substances for increased performance. No, we aren’t talking protein or BCAAs—you may be deficient in sleep.

If so, you’re missing out on the mental and physical performance benefits that a night of restful sleep can provide. But, after trying so many different solutions, maybe you’ve found yourself still unable to get quality shuteye.

As it turns out, one small but essential mineral may play a not-so-small role in how well you sleep. That mineral is magnesium, and it might just be the Sandman of nutrients. Can magnesium help you lull off to a restorative slumber?

M.V.M (Most Valuable Mineral)

Magnesium (Mg) is one of the 24 essential minerals and vitamins. Essential, meaning that we need to consume these nutrients in our diet since our body cannot synthesize, or manufacture them, on its own.

Found in food sources like dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts, squash, broccoli, dairy, meat, legumes, and unprocessed whole grains, magnesium has a role in more body functions than you may think (and some pretty critical ones too). Whether it’s making sure your heart beats properly or helping to promote bone mineral absorption, magnesium is a real physiological M.V.P.

The problem is, many of us may fail to get enough of certain nutrients from dietary sources alone. Whether due to an inadequate intake of nutrient-rich foods or the fact that many of our foods are now themselves nutrient-deficient, it may sometimes be hard to get enough. About 50% of Americans aren’t getting as much magnesium as they need.Costello2016 This is an issue, since magnesium helps promote overall health and well-being, with a supporting role in proper muscle function, bone health, and keeping a lower blood pressure.

Conversely, magnesium deficiencies are associated with a high blood pressure and a greater risk for many diseases of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system, among other negative health conditions.Costello2016

Could it be a coincidence then, that research shows nearly one-in-three adult men and women don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, and 35% report trouble sleeping and getting “poor” to “only fair” sleep quality?

The fact that magnesium helps regulate several aspects of sleep points to a possible link between magnesium deficiencies and the epidemic of sleep loss seen around the world.

Even those who aren’t deficient, however, can benefit from the role that magnesium plays in a restful sleep. Sleep is one frontier where the benefits of magnesium supplementation are being realized. What role could this essential mineral have for you in slumberland?

Magnesium Deficiencies and Sleep

Among the many symptoms of magnesium deficiency, (including muscle cramps, changes in mood, or muscle weakness) trouble sleeping may be one of the most annoying and detrimental symptoms as far your well being is concerned. We need proper sleep to think, perform, and be civil human beings to each other. How does magnesium work into the equation?

Running low on magnesium could throw off sleep cycles, leading to some restless nights and not-so-productive next mornings. The ability of magnesium deficiencies to impair sleep is likely because magnesium plays a major role in the central nervous system, controlling excitability and activation of certain neurons.

Magnesium deficiency may also impair sleep by increasing overall worry and anxiety. Patients with anxiety and depression have been shown to have low levels of magnesium.Poleszak2008Poleszak2008 It has been demonstrated that the anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effects of magnesium are due, in part, to its effects of antagonizing (blocking) NMDA receptors and possibly lowering the activity of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which is implicated in some forms of anxiety.PoleszakE2008 For this reason, magnesium could promote a calm night of sleep, and a lack of it could promote a night of tossing and turning.

Put some greens on your plate. Lower dietary intake of magnesium is associated with symptoms of poor quality sleep.

Magnesium deficiency is associated with sleep disturbances, nighttime agitation, and depression.Popoviciu1993 Women surveyed for a study who were in the highest self-reported magnesium intake group reported a lower likelihood of falling asleep during the day;Cao2018 they seemed to be more rested than their magnesium-stingy peers. In the same study, men and women in the two lowest magnesium intake groups had more people reporting sleep of less than seven hours per night.

While correlation doesn't equal causation, the findings that a low intake of magnesium is associated with poor sleep indicate the possibility that the two are intricately related.

In a study of rats, a magnesium-deficient diet induced alterations in sleep patterns. Restricting magnesium intake in the diet increased nighttime wakefulness by 50%, reduced recovery-promoting slow-wave sleep (SWS) by 24%, and lowered the total time spent sleeping.Depoortere1993 What happened when the diet returned to normal? You guessed it, better sleep.

Why might a low amount of magnesium (especially in the brain) correlate with poor sleep? It may have to do with adrenaline, one of the sympathetic “fight or flight” hormones, since lower magnesium is associated with increased stress hormone signaling. No doubt about it, if you’re trying to escape a tiger, there isn’t much time to hit the hay. Stress hormones are perfect for game time, but not so perfect for bedtime.

Magnesium also regulates a variety of neurotransmitters, cardiovascular processes like blood pressure and temperature, and muscular relaxation—all of which play a role in promoting (or preventing) sleep. So, reversing even a minor deficiency or boosting your magnesium levels above your baseline could have major impacts on your health. For this reason, magnesium supplements may be a great way to promote sleep for rest and recovery along with many other wellness gains.

Magnesium Promotes A Good Night's Sleep

Sleep like a baby...or your grandma? Newborn babies with higher levels of magnesium have better overall sleep,Dralle1980 and the aging-related declines in sleep quality seen in older adults can be reversed with magnesium supplementation.Held2002 At any age, it seems, magnesium turns you to a sound sleeper.

Calm Body, Calm Mind

One reason for the sleep-promoting effects of magnesium is that it quiets the body and the mind, priming the nervous system for sleep, and acting as a stress reducer.

Magnesium is a massage therapist for your brain, relaxing neurons and relieving the tension of stress and worry which promote a calmer state of mind.

Supplementing with magnesium helps improve biomarkers of stress including a higher heart rate variability (HRV) and increased parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activityWeinecke2016—both indicate less stress and perhaps better recovery. Chronic inflammation, another indicator of a body under duress, can be alleviated by supplementing with magnesium.NielsenF2010

Pull an all-nighter? Magnesium might help you recover. After a night of sleep deprivation, higher magnesium levels were shown to be protective and promote longer and higher quality recovery sleep.Chollet2000 The better cognitive recovery could be due to magnesium’s action as a cofactor in the synthesis of glycogen in the brain or because it helped to promote less sleep disruption, characterized by less waking episodes throughout the night.

Body Clocks and Melatonin

Poor sleep is often a consequence of a disturbed circadian rhythm, the “clocks” in all body organs that regulate metabolism and sleep-wake cycles. Magnesium has been shown to play a critical role in regulating these biological timekeepers by maintaining proper function of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), our body's master clock.Durlach2002

Sleep cycles are also kept in line by the “sleep molecule” melatonin. Levels of magnesium and melatonin are correlated, and supplementing with magnesium has been shown to increase the amount of melatonin floating around the brain and body by 35%.Abbasi2012

Insomniac No More

The potency of magnesium for regulating sleep is evidenced in its ability to help in one of the worst sleep disorders of them all—insomnia, known as habitual sleeplessness, trouble sleeping, or the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This may be you, if countless nights are spent staring at the ceiling thinking of past mistakes (“why did I tweet that!?”) or worrying about an upcoming project. Have no fear, magnesium is here to help.

Magnesium has been used extensively and effectively to treat insomnia. Giving 500mg of magnesium per day for eight weeks increased the sleep time, efficiency, and melatonin levels of insomnia patients.Abbasi2012 Supplementing has also been shown to reduce nightly periodic leg movements (PLMs) and arousals, symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS), and boost alertness and behavior the next day after a night of sleep in people being treated for insomnia.Hornyak1998,Rondanelli2011

Dosing Magnesium for Sleep

A diet that promotes overall adequate levels of magnesium should be goal number one when it comes to improving your sleep and health. A first step might be trying to incorporate some magnesium-rich foods into your diet, including leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, even dark chocolate. But, sometimes diet isn’t enough, and supplementing becomes the next best option.

For sleep specifically, dosing supplemental magnesium should be done carefully; as both too much and not enough of a dose may lead to sleep problems.Chollet2001

If taken at the correct dose in the ideal proximity to bed time, magnesium supplements can promote sleep above and beyond benefits gained from a dietary boost on its own.

While there aren’t any dosage “guidelines,” 350mg for adults might do the trick if taken 1 - 2 hours before you tuck in for the night. Along with sleep promotion, this will also help ward off general deficiencies.

Magnesium-containing nootropics may also be a great way to consume this mineral along with a cornucopia of other compounds.

A Natural Sleeping Aid

One of the reasons magnesium has shown such benefits for sleep is that it works like many of the common sleep aids you can buy over-the-counter (Ambien ring a bell?) These medications work their magic by acting on GABA receptors and promoting sleep through neuro-inhibitory mechanisms.

But, the sleep induced by these common medications doesn’t resemble natural sleep. Instead, these pharmaceuticals produce a lower brain wave power during sleep, and this means a less restorative night.Uygun2016 This is why natural sleep supplements like magnesium are more beneficial; they act on the same sleep-inducing pathways without the side effects.

Compared to over-the-counter sleep medications, the side effects of magnesium supplementation are extremely low.

Employing magnesium before bed might be easier, and less time-consuming than that nightly deep nasal breathing routine you keep trying to no avail. Supplementing with magnesium could be one simple hack to increase quantity and quality of sleep. You want to perform your best, whether that’s on the field or in the boardroom. Sleep is the way to get there. And magnesium is the way to get better sleep.

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