Sleep disorders: why magnesium can help us sleep better
Night-time anxiety, insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking at night, or waking up too early, consequently unable to go back to sleep: all of these are sleep disorders that have a significant impact, above all on women and on the elderly. Numerous scientific studies have shown the benefits of magnesium in regulating sleep disorders. Let’s see here how this mineral acts on our organism and when we need to intervene with the correct supplement.
Quality of sleep and the repercussions of sleep deprivation on our daily life
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder – the data from the Italian Association of Sleep Medicine tells us that in Italy around 12 million people suffer from insomnia, in other words one adult in four – and symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, frequent waking during the night, or early morning waking with inability to get back to sleep. An Italian multi-centre trial conducted on a sample of 2886 people demonstrates how sleep disorders are prevalent among women, above all during menopause, and shows significantly high figures: 64% find it difficult to get to sleep, 54% report frequent waking during the night, 45% say they wake up too early and 78% complain of feeling unwell when they wake.1
Obviously not all of us suffer from the same type of insomnia. Most sleep disorders can be divided into two main groups: acute disorders, and chronic disorders. The first are often transitory and linked to a period of intense stress, acute illness, or the use of medicinal products; on the other hand, the second group is related to chronic illnesses, both mental and physical.
However, in both cases, as the regulation of important biological rhythms are lacking, the repercussions on the quality of life and health of the individual are inevitable. People who suffer from insomnia or, in general, who find it difficult to get to sleep, often complain of mental and physical issues when waking, leading to symptoms such as excessive sleepiness during the day, irritability, poor concentration, interpersonal, social and professional problems. Literature also confirms how there is a higher probability of developing syndromes of anxiety and depression among those suffering from sleep deprivation.2
Furthermore, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to an increase in the cases of anxiety (47%), depression (45%) and sleep disorders (34%), as reported in a recent meta-analysis3, also leading to significant repercussions on healthcare costs.
Insomnia in the elderly
As we age, the cases of sleep disorders increase significantly, impacting 40-50% of people aged over 60. The main symptom among the elderly is less time spent sleeping, above all with regard to deep sleep, as well as less effective sleep itself. If insomnia already has a negative effect on the quality of life among younger people, the problems due to sleep disorders among the elderly become even more serious, exposing them to increased risk of falls due to loss of balance, the risk of cognitive deterioration, with loss of short-term memory and delayed reaction times, in addition to the progressive weakening of physical functions.4
Counter-indications of pharmacological treatments for insomnia
The quickest and most practical solution for insomnia is often thought to be the use of specific medicines for sleep disorders. However, although the pharmacological treatment of insomnia includes a broad spectrum of medicinal products that differ greatly from one another, it is also worth noting how at the Sleep Disorder Conference5 of the American National Institute of Health, top experts in the sector declared that the medicines commonly used to treat insomnia actually carry more risks than benefits. It is also worth highlighting how these medicinal products are not recommended for elderly patients, given the high number of contra-indications related to possible underlying health conditions.
How magnesium acts on our brain and on sleeping/waking cycles
Among the most common non-pharmacological remedies for treating sleep disorders is undoubtedly magnesium.
Among the many functions of magnesium is its important role in maintaining the correct electrical activity of the brain, by controlling the balance of glutamate and GABA. Glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter present in our central nervous system, whereas GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. Like all other neurotransmitters, it is essential that they are kept in balance with one another: an excess of one or the other can lead to serious morphological and functional alterations that then impact our mental health, and insomnia may represent one of these. Magnesium ions act as an agonist of the GABA, increasing the inhibitory effect of this neurotransmitter. Vice versa it is an antagonist of glutamate and thus counters its excitatory effect. This dual action of magnesium leads to an overall effect of relaxation of the central nervous system, which makes it useful in mild states of anxiety and insomnia.
Numerous scientific studies confirm that a daily supplement of magnesium can have beneficial effects on the management of sleep disorders, also among the elderly, increasing the sleep time and efficiency, while reducing the time taken to fall asleep.6
- Mencacci C. et al. Gender and sleep disorders. Italian multicentric study and qualitative research. Journal of Psychopathology. 2013: 375-382.
- Tsuno N. et al. Sleep and depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2005 Oct;66(10):1254-69.
- Deng J. et al. The prevalence of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances in COVID-19 patients: a meta-analysis. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2021 Feb;1486(1):90-111.
- Serrano-Checa R, et al. Sleep Quality, Anxiety, and Depression Are Associated with Fall Risk Factors in Older Women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jun 5;17(11):4043.
- NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on manifestations and management of chronic insomnia in adults. NIH Consens State Sci Statements. 2005 Jun 13-15;22(2):1-30.
- Abbasi B, et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161-9.