Sometimes, the best things you can do for your fitness routine happen well outside the gym.
When I have a client who's doing everything right during their workouts — lifting heavy weights, spiking their heart rate in some HIIT classes — but isn't seeing results, I analyze what happens outside training sessions. What are they eating? What does their recovery work look like? And most of all, are they getting enough sleep?
Sleep hygiene is one of the most important, yet often overlooked strategies to improving your health and fitness. If you don't get enough quality sleep, you won't be able to get the most from your training sessions. And you certainly won't be putting in work outside the gym, like choosing nutrient-dense foods, foam rolling sore muscles, or staying hydrated.
Chronic sleep deprivation causes a number of health risks, including impaired memory, high blood pressure, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart attacks. If you struggle with sleep, taking magnesium may help. Magnesium for sleep works by calming the nervous system, thereby preparing your brain and body for a good night's rest. Below, I share how magnesium works, how it impacts your sleep hygiene, and how to choose a high-quality magnesium supplement.
Please note: The following information is meant for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. Before taking magnesium or any other supplement, speak to your healthcare provider.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral found in a number of foods. Because it's essential — i.e., your body can't produce it on its own — you must consume it through your diet.
Every human being needs magnesium to stay healthy. Magnesium is responsible for a number of bodily functions, including regulating nerve and muscle function, keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels stable, helping improve bone health, and making DNA. In addition, magnesium can help decrease your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraines.
You can find magnesium in leafy greens, nuts and seeds, squash, whole grains, broccoli, legumes, dairy products, and meat. Unfortunately, many people do not get the recommended amount of magnesium. Therefore, you should try to make up for a lack of magnesium through supplements.
Magnesium for Sleep: Benefits of Magnesium
You know that magnesium is essential for your overall health. But how does it impact a good night's rest?
Here's what you need to understand: While magnesium is one of the most highly recommended supplements for insomnia, this isn't due to just one reason. Instead, magnesium impacts your sleep cycle in a number of ways, including:
1. Magnesium Helps You Relax
Allow me to tell you something you already know: It's really hard to fall asleep when your brain just doesn't want to turn off.
Allowing both mind and body to relax is essential for falling asleep — luckily, magnesium can help with both. Magnesium activates neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for calming your mind. Specifically, it binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which quiets nerve activity. (Unsurprisingly, GABA is often used in over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids.)
2. Magnesium Reduces Anxiety Levels
Why is it that every time your head hits the pillow, you suddenly think of 43 incomplete items on your to-do list?
Heightened anxiety levels make it difficult (*cough* impossible) to fall asleep. Research shows that supplementing magnesium can decrease stress, depression, and anxiety. Since magnesium can help stabilize stress-response symptoms while boosting your mood, it's proven to be extremely beneficial in getting a restful night's sleep.
3. Magnesium Is a Muscle Relaxer
When you commit to a regular fitness routine, there are going to be nights where you fall asleep feeling sore and tired. Unfortunately, this isn't conducive to a good night's rest.
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, which can help your body prepare for better sleep. Essentially, magnesium helps regulate muscle contractions by acting as a natural calcium blocker.
Here's how it works: In your muscles, calcium binds to proteins, which generates a contraction. Magnesium competes with calcium, thereby helping to relax your muscles. When you don't have enough magnesium, your muscles contract too often. This causes muscle cramps, spasms, and muscle soreness, which negatively impacts the recovery process.
4. Magnesium Can Reduce Symptoms Related to RLS
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder where you feel a chronic need to move your legs. It can often cause uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, throbbing, or tingling in your legs, which can prevent you from getting a good night's sleep.
Research shows that RLS may be caused by a magnesium deficiency. Scientists believe that because magnesium blocks calcium in your muscles, this calms your legs — thereby reducing the chronic need to move them.
5. Magnesium Can Help Prevent Daytime Falling Asleep
Listen, I am a big fan of naps (and have a strong suspicion against those who are anti-nap). But if you struggle staying asleep at night, you might want to avoid sleeping during the day.
Magnesium helps regulate your normal circadian rhythms, or the internal clock that tells you what time to be awake and what time to go to sleep. Research shows that supplementing with magnesium can prevent falling asleep in the daytime, thereby helping improve your sleep quality at night.
6. Magnesium Helps Treat Insomnia
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It's estimated that 50% of older adults have insomnia. If you're one of the many who suffer from lack of sleep, it can radiate into other areas of your life, causing sleepiness, lethargy, and headaches throughout your waking hours.
Studies show that magnesium deficiency is common in people who suffer from insomnia. Likewise, magnesium supplements can help treat insomnia symptoms.
In one study involving 60 patients diagnosed with insomnia, participants were given a supplement with melatonin, vitamin B, and magnesium. Participants took their supplements once a day for three months, after which their symptoms had greatly improved.
In another study lasting eight weeks, 46 elderly adults were given 500 milligrams of magnesium or a placebo. Researchers found that magnesium supplementation helped improve a number of biomarkers of insomnia, including sleep efficiency, sleep time, and sleep onset latency.
How to Take Magnesium for Sleep
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends adult men consume between 400-420 mg of magnesium per day, while women should consume between 310-320 mg. While you can get magnesium through foods, magnesium deficiencies are common. Therefore, you should turn to supplements.
What Are Different Forms of Magnesium Supplements?
When looking for magnesium supplements, there are a few variations you can take. While one is not necessarily better than the others, there are those that are specifically designed to treat sleep disorders. Here are a few types of magnesium you should know about:
- Magnesium chloride: Magnesium chloride can help improve kidney function, boost metabolism, and detox your cells.
- Magnesium citrate: Magnesium citrate is one of the most common magnesium supplements, because it's inexpensive to produce. This supplement acts as a laxative, and is recommended for those who struggle with gut health.
- Magnesium glycinate: Magnesium glycinate is magnesium bound with glycine, a non-essential amino acid. It has one of the highest bioavailability rates (meaning it's easily absorbed), making it a suitable option to treat a chronic magnesium deficiency.
- Magnesium oxide: Like magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide is one of the most common magnesium supplements available. However, it's not highly recommended because it has one of the worst absorption rates of all types of magnesium.
- Magnesium taurate: Magnesium taurate is a great supplement for cardiovascular health. It helps improve hypertension (chronically high blood pressure) and acts as an antioxidant.
- Magnesium bisglycinate: Magnesium bisglycinate has a calming effect on your muscles and nerves. This helps relax your body, thereby leading to a good night's sleep.
When Should You Take Magnesium?
I recommend taking magnesium twice daily: once immediately following your workout, and once 30 minutes before bed. Again, your specific magnesium intake will depend on recommendations by your physician.
Does Magnesium Have Any Side Effects?
If you're consuming magnesium-rich foods, you don't need to worry about any negative side effects. However, if you turn to supplements due to low magnesium levels, there are a few side effects you should know about.
Some supplements can cause nausea, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. This is due to the laxative effect of some sources of magnesium (especially magnesium citrate). If you experience any of these symptoms, you may need to switch supplements.
The Best Magnesium Supplement for Sleep
Magnesium is a safe, natural way to fight chronic sleep problems. In addition, it’s a far better alternative to sleep aids, which can cause daytime sleepiness, grogginess, and — for chronic users — an increased risk of Alzheimer's and dementia.
I recommend GoPrimal Magnesium, Zinc, & Vitamin B6 for all my clients. Plus, I use it daily myself. This combination of essential minerals and vitamins can help improve heart health, calm your muscles and nerves, and provide restful sleep.
GoPrimal Magnesium, Zinc, & Vitamin B6 includes 300 milligrams of magnesium taurate. This combination offers a number of health benefits, including:
- Protects against a wide range of health conditions: As you learned above, magnesium helps lower blood pressure, ease inflammation, and reduce symptoms of depression.
- Calms your mind and body: Magnesium bisglycinate calms your nerves, fighting against poor sleep quality.
- Acts as an anti-inflammatory: All three vitamins and minerals (zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6) have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to aid in your recovery work.
- Aids in muscle repair: Vitamin B6 can help your muscles repair and rebuild themselves following a strenuous workout.
In addition, Go Primal's Magnesium, Zinc, & Vitamin B6 supplement is vegan, is highly bioavailable for rapid absorption, contains zero artificial ingredients, and is sourced from organic ingredients.
You Can't Solely Rely on Supplements for Sleep Quality
While magnesium can greatly improve your sleep quality, you shouldn't solely rely on supplements to get a good night's rest.
Instead, I encourage each of you to take a hard look at your sleep habits. To help improve your sleep quality, take the following measures:
- Give yourself a bedtime: Falling asleep and waking up at the same time each day greatly improves your circadian rhythms. Sticking to a strict schedule tells your internal clock that it's time to go to bed, which reduces the time it takes to fall asleep.
- Avoid screens before bed: Charge your phone, close your laptop, and switch off the television two hours before bed. Blue light has been scientifically shown to suppress melatonin, which plays a key role in a good night's rest.
- Keep daytime naps short: Again, I'm a fan of naps — but there's a right and wrong way to get some daytime Z’s. Keep naps to 20-30 minutes max to reduce daytime drowsiness.
- Wind down early: Try to keep your evenings peaceful, avoiding late-night workouts, caffeine, or heavy meals. You want to signal your mind and body it's time to relax, not to get energized.
- Sleep in a dark room: Purchase blackout curtains if you need to, keeping your room free of excess light. You may also find that it's helpful to turn down the temperature or turn on a ceiling fan.
- Understand your sleep patterns: I strongly recommend tracking your sleep, understanding what factors influence good — and not-so-good — sleep. A very effective way that worked incredibly well for me is using the WHOOP strap to track sleep quality.
The Right Magnesium Supplement Can Improve Sleep Quality
Getting a good night's rest is imperative for your health and fitness. Sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits impact your life in and outside the gym, impairing your concentration, placing your heart at risk, and reducing your recovery efforts.
If you struggle getting to sleep (or staying asleep) at night, magnesium can help (together with exercise and appropriate nutrition). Magnesium binds to GABA receptors, which can help calm your mind and body before bed. In addition, taking magnesium reduces your risk of insomnia, relaxes your muscles, and decreases stress levels.
If you're looking to start taking magnesium for sleep, I highly recommend Go Primal's Magnesium, Zinc, & Vitamin B6. This blend of vitamins and minerals has been shown to reduce inflammation, calm your mind and body, and rebuild your muscles post-workout.
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