The One Nutrient Sleep Experts Want You to Eat More Often

Getting more magnesium may help the processes in your body that lead to restful sleep.
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Despite being a basic part of human life, getting enough quality sleep is easier said than done for many people. Seven hours per night is the minimum recommendation, but 1 in 3 Americans are getting less than that, according to the CDC.

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With all of the stressors and endless distractions of everyday life, you may find yourself in a state of sleep deprivation. Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea may also cause issues.

There's a lot that goes into turning your sleep schedule around, and your diet can help. Certain foods, such as those high in magnesium, may promote healthy sleep, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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Here's what sleep experts have to say on the link between magnesium and sleep, and why they recommend this nutrient if you're not catching enough ZZZs.

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Why Eating More Magnesium Might Help You Sleep

1. It Regulates Brain Chemicals Associated With Sleep

Sleep seems easy enough, but the processes that make it happen are actually quite complicated.

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There are several neurotransmitters (aka brain chemicals) involved in the process of sleep. Two key players are serotonin and GABA. Serotonin can both induce sleep and keep you from it, while GABA is predominantly associated with helping you relax and drift off.

Magnesium may affect these neurotransmitter, according to Tracy Hannigan, a certified sleep therapist known as The Sleep Coach. "There is no proven mechanism," she says. "But, the thinking is that magnesium facilitates the function of GABA, which has a calming effect."

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Magnesium plays a critical role in sleep by acting as an agonist of GABA, according to a December 2012 study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. The clinical trial found that magnesium supplementation helped improve insomnia in elderly people.

When magnesium levels in the body are low, so are serotonin levels, according to Mount Sinai. Raising magnesium levels may help increase serotonin and improve sleep disorders.

Magnesium may help regulate neurotransmitters involved in sleep, but it's important to note that its role is likely a supporting one, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

2. It May Raise Your Levels of Sleep Hormones

If you have issues falling asleep at bedtime, you may have come across sleep aids that have melatonin.

Melatonin — commonly known as "the sleep hormone" — is naturally produced by the body and used to support the circadian rhythm, or the internal clock that helps you wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night. When melatonin is low, your internal clock may not understand that it is time to sleep when you lay in bed.

Some evidence suggests that magnesium has an effect on the sleep hormone. Supplementing showed to significantly raise levels of melatonin, according to the December 2012 clinical trial in the ​Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.

Combining magnesium with melatonin has also been shown to improve the quality and duration of sleep, per a small January 2011 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

3. It Helps Relieve Stress

Stress and anxiety can get in the way of good, restful sleep. "With people who have trouble sleeping, even the job of falling asleep can induce anxiety that makes the problem worse," Hannigan says.

Magnesium may help in alleviating feelings of stress and worry by reducing nightly cortisol (known as "the stress hormone") levels in your body, according to the American Sleep Association.

"Magnesium deficiencies are associated with anxiety, and taking in more of it has been shown to be helpful with anxiety," Hannigan says. "Stress affects sleep profoundly, so any nutrient that helps with it could have the additional benefit of improving your sleep."

How to Get More Magnesium

There isn't a whole lot of scientific research that cements the link between magnesium and sleep, but experts agree that getting more could help and likely can't hurt.

The following foods are among the richest food sources of magnesium, according to the USDA:

  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Lima beans
  • Tuna
  • Brown rice
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Bananas

If you choose to take magnesium supplements, 200 milligrams of magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate should do the job, per the Cleveland Clinic. As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement.

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