If you’re over the age of 60 and taking supplements to help you sleep, it’s possible you’re missing one extremely important nutrient. In fact, one study suggests a deficiency in one nutrient — a very common mineral — could be the reason you’re not sleeping well.
The study followed 12 healthy people (six men and six women) who were between the ages of 60 and 80. They divided the group into two groups and gave each group magnesium or a placebo for 20 days. They stopped the treatment for two weeks and then repeated the 20-day treatment period. They gave the magnesium and placebo in a tiered fashion. For the first three days of each 20-day period, they gave the doses in the morning only. During the next three days, they gave the doses in the morning and at noon. And, for the final 14 days, they gave them three doses a day.
After each of the treatment periods, they gave a polysomnogram (PSG) for two nights. They recorded sleep from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. the next day. They also took blood samples through the night to analyze levels of certain hormones, most notably cortisol. I’ll explain why that’s important in a moment.
When the researchers evaluated the results of the PSG, they found that the magnesium group had significantly more slow-wave sleep, but no significant change in total sleep time or amount of wake time during the night. As you age, your slow-wave sleep decreases significantly. That’s why you can get the same number of hours of sleep as you did when you were younger, but feel like you didn’t get enough. You’re still tired and worn out.
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The researchers also found that the magnesium group had significantly lower levels of cortisol. Cortisol, as you may know, is the stress hormone. As you age, your body releases more cortisol during the night. The magnesium treatment reversed this particular effect of aging. This makes perfect sense — less stress usually leads to better sleep.
Here’s the most important implication of this study. It indicates that you could take melatonin and other great natural sleep aides, but still not get the right kind of sleep if your magnesium levels are low. This is especially true if you’re under a great deal of stress. This will only make your sleep less restful.
If you’re not taking a magnesium supplement every day, it’s important you start. Most people become deficient as they age. And we know it works wonders on the heart, bones, headaches, and a host of other ailments. It’s one of the most important minerals you can take as a supplement. So start taking magnesium up to bowel tolerance — usually 500 to 1,000 mg. If you divide the dose up through the day like they did in this study, it’s easier on your bowels. Use the most absorbable forms of magnesium. These include magnesium chelate, glycinate, ascorbate, or citrate.
If you take supplemental magnesium and it doesn’t seem to help, you may be severely deficient. When your magnesium levels are low, it’s harder for your intestines to absorb the mineral. So take a little choline citrate (one teaspoon in four ounces of water) immediately after your magnesium. The choline citrate will help your body absorb the magnesium better.
If that doesn’t help, you may need an integrative physician to give you shots of magnesium sulfate (2 grams, twice a week) to bring your levels up.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.
Allen, R.P., Article reviewed: K. Held, I.A. Antonijevic, H. Künzel, M. Uhr, T.C. Wetter, I.C. Golly, A. Steiger, H. Murck, “Oral MG2+ supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans,” Pharmacopsychiatry, 35 (2002), 135–143.