A perfect night’s sleep is an elusive dream for some. Tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling trying to get a good night’s sleep can be an arduous battle. Stress levels, blue light and artificial light at night, medication side effects, or simply the snoring of a spouse are causes for a loss of zzzz’s. A simple lack of certain nutrients, like minerals, can also lead to sleepless nights and may be the missing link for blissful slumber.
Mineral levels within the nervous system significantly impact the quality and amount of time you spend in restorative sleep. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc directly impact neurotransmitters, neurological processes and even genes that regulate getting to and staying asleep and support REM and non-REM sleep stages.
Calcium is most widely known for its role for healthy bones and teeth, but it provides crucial support for sleep mechanisms. In your brain, calcium movement into nerves causes a hyperpolarization within cells. This process flips a switch with potassium and magnesium flowing in and out of cells. The result is that it helps you fall asleep. Then, as calcium ions move out of nerves, it leads to wakefulness. If calcium levels are low, then sleep quality and duration are compromised.
Calcium supports neurotransmitter and hormone regulation for sleep. It assists in converting the amino acid tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin which turns into the sleep hormone melatonin.
Cross-sectional studies evaluated calcium intake in young college age adults. Nearly one of out six students consumed less than 1000 mg of calcium in their diet and experienced insomnia and poor sleep quality. Data from the NHANES Survey which spanned a wide variety of ages and ethnic backgrounds found inadequate calcium intake led to poor sleep. Those who consumed adequate calcium got to sleep faster and had better restorative sleep in all age groups.
Dairy products are rich sources of calcium. Plant-based sources include kale, turnip greens, chia seeds, broccoli, and other vegetables and grains. However, plant-based sources generally contain smaller amounts of calcium which are less bioavailable due to fiber content. Vegetarian, Western diets, dairy-free diet consumers will need to be more mindful about calcium intake. Caffeine intake causes calcium loss.
Calcium RDA levels for children age 4 years to seniors ranges from 1000 mg to 1300 mg per day.
Magnesium affects hundreds of different mechanisms throughout the body including blood vessels, muscles, inflammation, joints, blood sugar, and more. In the brain, magnesium helps serotonin, dopamine and other monoamine neurotransmitters connect to their receptor sites. It supports GABA, the primary relaxing or inhibitory neurotransmitter. Conversely, magnesium inhibits NMDA, an amino acid derivative similar to the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Thus magnesium help stress management, relaxation and sleep.
A five year study of Chinese adults demonstrated that women who consumed on average 320 mg of magnesium had significantly improved nighttime sleep quality and less concerns with daytime falling asleep. In the NHANES Survey 2005-2016, it showed that the inability to sleep through the night was linked with inadequate intake of magnesium.
Another study with adolescent girls and young women with poor sleep quality were found to have significantly lower intake of several nutrients. Decreased consumption of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, protein, and vitamin K and B2 led to disrupted sleep. Many