Magnesium is well-known for its muscle relaxant and cramp-relieving effects. However, one of its lesser-known properties is its ability to promote high-quality, restful sleep. There are several mechanisms through which magnesium is able to improve sleep quality. They are:
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle in the body. It is secreted mainly at night and helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.
In addition to its sleep-promoting effects, melatonin has an antioxidant capacity, modulates the immune system, and is protective against a range of cancers, especially the most common form of cancer in women, breast cancer.
Since melatonin offers so many benefits, it is essential that we ensure its optimal production. The best way to do this is by ensuring that all of the nutrients required for its production are provided in the diet. The nutrients required for optimal melatonin production include: tryptophan, folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, zinc, and magnesium. These nutrients are found in the following foods: nuts, seeds, cheese, most meats, seafood, beans, lentils, spinach, avocadoes, mangoes, oranges, bananas, prunes, and cocoa/ chocolate.
NMDA (N-methyl-D-Aspartate) receptors in the brain help to maintain alertness, learning, and long-term memory. Since they maintain alertness, stimulation of them during the evening is likely to keep you awake. Therefore, it is best to block/ antagonise these receptors in order to ensure restful sleep.
Magnesium is an NMDA receptor channel blocker, which means that it inhibits the action of the NMDA receptor, resulting in less stimulation and better quality sleep.
GABA (Gamma-Amino-Butyric Acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has the effect of calming the brain. Even though magnesium doesn’t affect GABA directly, it does bind to and activate GABA receptors in the brain, inducing a calming effect and enhancing sleep.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body. It is produced in the adrenal glands (adrenal cortex) and circulates throughout the body via the blood stream. It has a range of effects in your body. It increases blood glucose levels, suppresses the immune system, promotes the metabolism of all macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), and decreases bone formation. It also has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system (CNS).
The cortisol level in the body fluctuates quite dramatically over a day. Under normal circumstances cortisol levels tend to be lowest in the evening and highest just prior to waking up in the morning, i.e. it helps to wake you up. Therefore, if levels of cortisol are high during the evening, getting to sleep and staying asleep becomes much more difficult.
The good news however is that magnesium has the effect of lowering the level of cortisol in the body, making it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep.
You can easily increase your intake of magnesium and therefore improve your sleep by eating more of the following foods: green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, avocadoes, dairy foods, bananas, and chocolate. You can also take magnesium in a supplement form, either as a powder or a tablet.
If you’re interested in obtaining magnesium in supplement form then some forms are better than others. Magnesium glycinate is one of the best forms to use because it is highly bioavailable (absorbed into the body), possibly because the magnesium is bound to glycine, one of the smallest amino acids. Magnesium glycinate is also the least likely of all the forms of magnesium to cause diarrhoea and it is considered the best option for correcting a magnesium deficiency, which the majority of the population is thought to have.
Since the goal is to improve sleep there are a few other ingredients that are worthwhile considering. Taurine is an amino acid that is involved in the conversion of glutamic acid into GABA, thereby inducing relaxation and promoting sleep.
Another amino acid, L-glycine is worth considering having in conjunction with the magnesium glycinate. L-glycine, or simply, glycine, can have both excitatory and inhibitory functions. Glycine can act as both an NMDA and GABA receptor agonist. However, in the presence of magnesium the NMDA receptor cannot be activated, thereby negating its excitatory effect on the brain. The GABA receptor on the other hand, has two glycine binding sites, making the glycine strongly inhibitory of brain stimulation, resulting in a calming effect.
If you want to improve your sleep and would like to use a high-quality magnesium supplement that contains all the ingredients mentioned here, then speak to your local naturopath or healthcare practitioner in order to get their advice on the best brand to use.