Why Is Sleep Important And What You Can Do To Improve It
It used to be that getting enough sleep was an afterthought. For those of us trying to stay healthy, our focus was diet and exercise. If we didn’t get enough sleep, then we might be tired the next day but, oh well, we’d catch up later. Those days are over. New research points to a plethora of health problems associated with poor sleep. Let’s take a look at a few.
- Inadequate sleep can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. A recent study found individuals who had less than six hours of sleep per night or who woke frequently were about 30 percent more likely to have atherosclerosis compared to individuals with healthier sleep patterns.1
- Poor sleep can contribute to weight gain. A recent study supports previous research that connects inadequate sleep with elevated cortisol, increased obesity, and other aspects of metabolic syndrome like insulin resistance.2 Oh, and if you fall asleep with the TV on, that makes things even worse. Another recent study found that having a light or the TV on when sleeping was associated with a weight gain of up to 11 pounds and a 10 percent increase in body mass index over a 5 year period compared to not having a light or the TV on.3
- Lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety. We know that if we’re anxious, we don’t sleep as well. But a recent study found it works the other way around too – inadequate sleep can increase anxiety by as much as 30 percent.4
- Disordered sleep might be associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Studies have shown lack of deep sleep (non-REM sleep) could be associated with the plaques and abnormal proteins in the brain associated with AD.5
- It can work the other way around too – seemingly unrelated things in your body could be affecting your sleep – the bugs in your gut, for example. A new study found that the more different strains of beneficial bacteria you have in your intestinal tract, the better your sleep quantity and quality.6
So, let’s take a look at some things that can help you get those much needed zzzz’s.
Magnesium – a mineral we may be lacking
When it comes to basic vitamins or minerals to help with sleep, magnesium is at the top of my list. But, despite its importance for many aspects of health – restful sleep, muscle relaxation, heart health, bone health, nerve health, and the list goes on* – many of us consume less than optimal amounts of magnesium. According to World Health Organization statistics, as many as three out of four U.S. adults do not meet the FDA’s Recommended Daily Intake for magnesium.7
Why is it so difficult to get adequate magnesium?
Many things can contribute to a magnesium deficiency. Some chronic diseases, like diabetes and metabolic syndrome, increase the need for magnesium, while some medications can cause low magnesium levels. But even if you’re healthy, have a good diet, and take no medications, you could still not be taking in an optimal amount of magnesium. For example, a decreased intake can occur because of magnesium depleted soil where vegetables and fruits are grown.
By some estimates, the magnesium levels in vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, and spinach have dropped 80 percent in the past 100 years.8 An increased dependence on quick to prepare processed foods has also resulted in decreased magnesium intake. Soft drinks with phosphates (that provide the fizz) interfere with magnesium absorption, while the diuretic-like effect of caffeine and alcohol increases magnesium loss in the urine.
Why does magnesium help with sleep?
In addition to muscle relaxation, low magnesium levels are associated with a low level of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which disrupts circadian rhythms and makes your body feel like it’s not time to go to sleep.*9
A study of older adults – in which half reported difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep – showed that supplementation with magnesium had a significant positive impact on sleep time, sleep quality, and melatonin concentration.*10
Bottom line: Just about everyone can benefit from magnesium supplementation, so why not optimize its benefits by taking it before bed.
When it comes to magnesium, form matters.
When choosing a mineral supplement – in this case, magnesium – there are several things to consider when trying to maximize your supplementation. The primary goal is to absorb the most amount of the mineral from the fewest number of capsules and without side effects. So, how can this best be accomplished?
Absorption: One factor should always be considered – by their nature minerals are not particularly well absorbed by the human body. One barrier to absorption that can be overcome is optimizing the form the mineral comes in. This is simple chemistry – certain forms of minerals are better absorbed than others.
Magnesium in the forms of magnesium bisglycinate, magnesium malate, and magnesium citrate are better absorbed than magnesium oxide. In one unpublished study (see graph below), blood levels of magnesium over eight hours were highest for magnesium bisglycinate, closely followed by magnesium malate; much less well absorbed was magnesium oxide.
Although magnesium citrate was not included in the above study, two other studies comparing absorption of magnesium citrate with magnesium oxide found significantly more magnesium is absorbed from the citrate form compared to the oxide form.11,12
Concentration: In addition to its capacity to be absorbed, the concentration of a mineral in a supplement formula is important. This is especially true when the mineral is in an encapsulated product. The concentration – or how much of the ingredient is mineral compared to the substance the mineral is bound to in the ingredient – will determine how much of the mineral can be squeezed into the capsule.
Finding a supplement with an optimum balance between absorption and concentration is hugely important. Magnesium malate and magnesium citrate are two good examples of magnesium forms that are well absorbed and have higher mineral concentrations.
Magnesium malate and citrate are more concentrated than magnesium bisglycinate (20% magnesium in magnesium malate and 16% in magnesium citrate, compared to 8% in magnesium bisglycinate).
But because magnesium bisglycinate has superior absorption, it is ideal for a powdered product such as Thorne’s RecoveryPro® or Magnesium Bisglycinate; whereas, the higher concentration of magnesium in Magnesium CitraMate makes it a superior choice for an encapsulated product.
Melatonin can regulate your sleep-wake cycles
The hormone melatonin, naturally produced by your body, plays an important role in sleep. However, as you age, your body produces less melatonin, which can contribute to sleep problems.13,14 Increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol can also drive down melatonin levels. How are your melatonin and cortisol levels? Find out with this simple, at-home Sleep Test.
Daily darkness signals the pineal gland in the brain to secrete melatonin. According to the Harvard Health Letter, although any light exposure before bed can suppress melatonin and interfere with sleep, the blue light from computer screens, smart phones, tablets, TVs, and even energy efficient LED light bulbs, has been shown to suppress melatonin levels more than light waves in the warmer spectrum.15
The Harvard researchers compared 6.5 hours of blue light exposure to the same intensity of green light and found that the blue light suppressed melatonin twice as long as green light.
If you can’t avoid exposure for a couple of hours before bedtime, then consider supplementing with melatonin. A melatonin supplement taken an hour before bedtime can help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.*
GABA – a calming brain chemical that supports a good night’s sleep*
PharmaGABA® is the trademarked brand of a natural-source form of gamma-aminobutyric acid – GABA – a calming neurotransmitter in the body that has been shown to promote restful sleep.*
In a 2016 randomized, placebo-controlled trial, a small group of poor sleepers were given either 100 mg of PharmaGABA (the amount in one serving of RecoveryPro) or a placebo 30 minutes before bedtime for one week.
After a 1-week break between treatments, the protocol was reversed; i.e., those who took PharmaGABA switched to placebo and vice versa. EEG measurements of electrical activity in the brain showed a significant decrease in the time it took to fall asleep in the group taking PharmaGABA compared to when they were taking the placebo.*16
A clinical study found this form of GABA increases the production of alpha waves in the brain, creating a profound sense of physical relaxation while maintaining mental focus.*17 In contrast, the stress-related beta waves in the brain were decreased.*
Taking GABA with whey protein before bed can have added fitness benefits.*
In a recent study on the effect of nutrient supplementation on muscle mass, 21 males (average age, 39) who did not exercise regularly were given 10 grams of whey protein daily or 10 grams of whey protein plus 100 mg of PharmaGABA daily for 12 weeks – plus two strength training sessions weekly. Supplementation was before bedtime except on exercise days. The total body lean muscle mass increased significantly in the whey protein plus PharmaGABA group compared to the whey-only group.*18
Why take whey protein before bed?
Other research supports using whey protein before bed to support restful sleep and to promote muscle recovery during sleep.* Whey protein is a good source of tryptophan – the amino acid that makes you fall asleep on Thanksgiving after stuffing yourself with turkey. One study found that 28 grams of protein in a recovery drink before going to bed after strength training resulted in an increase in muscle size and strength compared to a group who had a drink with no protein.*19
Researchers at Purdue University in 2016 examined the effect of diet on sleep quality in overweight and obese patients who were attempting to lose weight. The individuals who consumed a higher amount of protein – 1.5 grams of protein per kg body weight – ranked their sleep quality better than the individuals who consumed less protein.*20
And it might help with weight loss, too. A study of young male athletes found that consuming whey protein before bed increased resting metabolic rate the next morning compared to when taking a placebo before bed.*21 What more could you ask for than improving body composition while you sleep?
In addition to creating a comfortable sleeping environment and maintaining a healthy sleep routine, consider adding some natural dietary supplements to your evening routine with Magnesium CitraMate (magnesium citrate and magnesium malate), Melaton-3 (melatonin), and RecoveryPro (high in tryptophan and providing whey protein, PharmaGABA, and magnesium bisglycinate in one yummy chocolate beverage).
- Domínguez F, Fuster V, Fernández-Alvira J, et al. Association of sleep duration and quality with subclinical atherosclerosis. J Am Coll Cardiol 2019;73(2):134-144.
- Smiley A, Wolter S, Nissan D. Mechanisms of association of sleep and metabolic syndrome. J Med Clin Res & Rev 2019;3(3):1-9.
- Park Y, White A, Jackson C, et al. Association of exposure to artificial light at night while sleeping with risk of obesity in women. JAMA Intern Med 2019 Jun 10. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0571
- Ben-Simon E, Rossi A, Harvey A, Walker M. Overanxious and underslept. Nat Hum Behav 2019 Nov 4. doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0754-8.
- Lucey B, McCullough A, Landsness E, et al. Reduced non-rapid eye movement sleep is associated with tau pathology in early Alzheimer's disease. Sci Transl Med 2019;11(474):eaau6550. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aau6550
- Smith R, Easson C, Lyle S, et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS One 2019 Oct 7;14(10):e0222394.
- World Health Organization. Calcium and magnesium in drinking water: Public health significance. Geneva: World Health Organization Press; 2009.
- Grober U. Magnesium and drugs. Int J Mol Sci 2019;20(9):2094.
- Durlach J, Pagès N, Bac P, et al. Biorhythms and possible central regulation of magnesium status, phototherapy, darkness therapy and chronopathological forms of magnesium depletion. Magnes Res 2002;15(1-2):49-66.
- Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Med Res Sci 2012;17(12):1161-1169.
- Walker A, Marakis G, Christie S, Byng M. Mg citrate found more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomised, double-blind study. Magnes Res 2003;16(3):183-191.
- Lindberg J, Zobitz M, Poindexter J, Pak C. Magnesium bioavailability from magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. J Am Coll Nutr 1990;9(1):48-55.
- Schroeck J, Ford J, Conway E, et al. Review of safety and efficacy of sleep medicines in older adults. Clin Ther 2016;38:2340-2372.
- Melatonin. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-melatonin/art-20363071. [Accessed Feb. 10, 2019]
- https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side [Accessed Feb. 10, 2020]
- Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Pandharipande T, et al. Effect of oral gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration on sleep and its absorption in humans. Food Sci Biotechnol 2016;25:547-551.
- Abdou A, Higashiguchi S, Horie K, et al. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. BioFactors 2006;26:201-208.
- Sakashita M, Nakamura U, Maru I, et al. Combined oral intake of GABA with whey protein improves lean mass in resistance-trained men. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2016;48(5 Suppl 1):54
- Snijders T, Res P, Smeets J, et al. Protein ingestion before sleep increases muscle mass and strength gains during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in healthy young men. J Nutr 2015;145(6):1178-1184.
- Zhou J, Kim J, Armstrong C, et al. Higher-protein diets improve indexes of sleep in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults: results from 2 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2016;103(3):766-774.
- Madzima T, Panton L, Fretti S, et al. Night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning resting energy expenditure in active college-aged men. Br J Nutr 2014;111(1):71-77.