Article at a glance:

• The health effects of lack of sleep can be devastating.
• Low magnesium may be a significant factor contributing to poor sleep.
• Magnesium helps to calm both body and mind, ready for bed.

Two thirds of adults don’t get the recommended 8 hours sleep a night and the health effects can be devastating. Hand in hand with lack of sleep come health problems such as anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, diabetes, a weakened immune system, altered gut microflora and an increased risk of chronic illness to name but a few.

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”.

There are many factors contributing to poor sleep, and it’s crucial to look at the whole picture if it’s something you need to address. Just one of those factors is low magnesium. Nowadays, nutrient-poor Western diets and stressful, busy lifestyles mean that many people are depleted in magnesium, yet this mighty mineral has a vital role to play in supporting healthy sleep. In fact, in a recent analysis of responses from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) taken between 2005 – 2015, researchers found that of about 26,000 US adults surveyed, many get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night, and those that are sleeping less also tend not to have adequate intakes of essential vitamins and minerals including magnesium. If you’re looking to improve your sleep, adding extra magnesium to your diet could be a great place to start. Here we take a closer look at the science behind magnesium’s vital role in sleep.

Top 3 reasons why magnesium helps you sleep

1. Magnesium supports neurotransmitters that calm the body and mind. There’s good scientific reason why magnesium is nicknamed ‘nature’s tranquiliser’. Magnesium is a pivotal nutrient for the healthy functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system - the part of the nervous system that’s responsible for getting your body into a calm and relaxed state, ready for bed. Magnesium also helps to support bodily levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) – a vital chemical messenger that promotes sleep. Interestingly, the therapeutic aim of many prescription sleeping tablets is to increase levels of GABA; magnesium provides this support naturally.

2. Magnesium balances the effects of stress and anxiety. 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 – the opposite side of the nervous system that prepares your body for intense physical activity, or to ‘fight or take flight’. 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, to 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 helps to balance stress. Under stress, more magnesium is used up and eliminated from your system, so if you’re stressed, you need to up your dietary intake of magnesium to balance the body’s increased needs.

3. Magnesium relaxes your brain and muscles. ‘Nature’s tranquiliser’ not only relaxes the brain but relaxes your muscles too. Without magnesium, muscles can’t relax and cramps and spasms may start to occur. Early research even suggests that some cases of restless legs syndrome (RLS), which itself can cause sleep problems, may be caused by a magnesium deficiency and that magnesium supplements may help to reduce RLS symptoms.

Are you getting enough of the mighty relaxation mineral?

Magnesium is the relaxation mineral, helping to calm both mind and body before bed. From its involvement in the production of calming neurotransmitters, to balancing the stress response and even acting as a brain and muscle relaxant, it’s difficult to overestimate the potential sleep benefits of magnesium. If you’re regularly ‘not getting enough’ sleep, perhaps it’s time to assess whether you’re ‘getting enough’ magnesium in your diet? This powerful mineral is relaxing in nature, yet mighty in force.

References available on request

Useful Resources
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker

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