Nothing beats a great night’s sleep for its restorative powers. Sleep boosts your mood and supports mental and physical health. With the pandemic upending routines, ways of life and economic security for so many of us, it’s no surprise that many of us are experiencing more stress than during normal times which can affect quality of sleep. Many Americans are experiencing considerable stress related to the coronavirus, and parents are reporting higher levels of general stress than adults without children, according to the American Psychological Association.[i]
Stress brings on bodily reactions in the brain and nervous system, the endocrine system, which regulates hormones and helps the body function properly, and the immune system, which helps you to ward off disease and infections.
Key role of magnesium
Problems with sleep may be related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies too. For example, magnesium deficiencies are related to problems with sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency and those with low magnesium can experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night, according to Michael J. Breus Ph.D., known as the “Sleep Doctor.” Supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels often leads to deeper, more sound sleep.[ii]
Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral and the second most common electrolyte in the body, required for more than 300 biochemical reactions including nerve and muscle function, and support of the immune system, among other functions.
3 sleep aids to try
If you have problems getting a good night’s sleep there are dietary supplements which can help. Magnesium plays a vital role in these supplements, outlined below. If you are having trouble sleeping, here are three sleep aids to consider:
GABA is best known for nervous system support, and taking GABA supplements can help to relieve anxiety and improve mood, to bring on a calming effect. You produce GABA and taking additional GABA can support a good night’s sleep by helping you relax. What is GABA? Gaba aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter, playing a central role in regulating cell-to-cell communication.
GABA attaches to a protein in your brain called the GABA receptor which helps to carry magnesium, which in turn increases GABA levels and brings on relaxation. Your body’s GABA receptors help to carry magnesium into the body to regulate the body’s stress-response system.
The body’s own GABA activity is important for sleep. GABA enables the body and mind to relax and fall asleep, and to sleep soundly throughout the night. Low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax, while higher GABA levels decrease activity in the central nervous system to help you calm down. Low GABA activity is linked to insomnia and disrupted sleep, according to the Sleep Doctor, Michael J. Breus Ph.D.[iii]
Dr. Breus calls GABA the “brakes of the brain” for its ability to lower neural call activity in the brain and central nervous system, having the effect of moving the brain and the body into lower gear. GABA may also offer immune system support for those undergoing mental stress.
According to research reported by Goodlife Pharmacy, healthy levels of GABA are associated with positive mood. One 2006 study looked at orally administered GABA on relaxation and immunity during stress in humans, showing that GABA enhances alpha wave production in the brain to promote relaxation and moderate stress. Its effects could be seen within one hour of taking the supplement to induce relaxation and diminish anxiety.[iv]
GABA also helps with memory and cognitive function. Diminishing levels of GABA may play a role in cognitive decline as we age, according to at least one study. One reported study shows an association between higher GABA concentrations in the frontal lobe, a brain region important for complex cognitive functioning, and superior performance on a cognitive test in healthy older adults.[v]
GABA is found naturally in varieties of tea, fermented foods like yogurt, and other foods may boost its production in the body such as whole grains, nuts, citrus, spinach and broccoli, according to Michael J. Breus Ph.D.[vi]
Typical GABA supplements come in amounts of 100 mg and 200 mg, and it’s recommended to start with a low dose. Higher amounts are available in 500 mg supplements.
L-Theanine promotes relaxation and reduces stress response. It is a form of amino acid found in green and black tea leaves, and even in mushrooms. It lowers levels of excitatory brain chemicals which are linked to stress and anxiety while elevating levels of neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine to promote a feeling of calm.
Significant research has indicated that L-Theanine is beneficial for a good night’s sleep. In an article which appears in the Beverages periodical, several studies report that doses of 250 mg and 400 mg of L-Theanine greatly improved sleep in animals and humans. Also, 200 mg of L-theanine was shown to reduce resting heart rate, suggesting its ability to promote relaxation.
Researchers in the 2016 article from Beverages noted that interest in L-Theanine as a supplement is great for its effects on learning ability and immune function, among other health benefits. The article noted that l-theanine also “promotes the generation of alpha waves in the brain, inducing a state of relaxation without causing a state of drowsiness.”[vii]
Speaking of beverages, Pepsi’s new Driftwell beverage, which debuts in early 2021, contains 200mg of L-theanine and also magnesium to help promote relaxation.
Nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness in the Dishing Up Nutrition podcast entitled “How to Get Your Eating Back on Track,” which aired August 29, 2020, reported that when L-Theanine taken as a supplement can help relieve situational anxiety or social anxiety such as for public speaking and that the supplement stays in you for about 3 hours.
One study found the oral intake of L-Theanine could cause anti-stress effects via the inhibition of cortical neuron excitation. In other words, L-Theanine calms you down. Another study, published in 2010, found the combination of L-Theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. The 2013 study suggested that 97 mg of L-theanine in combination with 40 mg of caffeine helps to focus attention during a demanding cognitive task.[viii]
For all these reasons, L-Theanine is a great supplement to take anytime—during the day, before bed or even during the night, early morning hours when you have difficulty going back to sleep. It won’t leave you groggy. Most L-Theanine supplements are available in 100 mg and 200 mg capsules, or chewable tablets.
L-Threonate is a form of magnesium which supports memory and cognitive function, and could be considered the brain’s magnesium. A relatively new form of magnesium, L-Threonate permeates the brain to enhance receptors, enhancing alpha brain waves. That’s the state of mind you experience in wakeful relaxation when meditating, being creative, or letting your mind wander in daydream mode. Research indicates alpha activity helps to reduce stress, anxiety and pain, which explains its link to promoting a good night’s sleep.
As a dietary mineral and electrolyte, magnesium is an essential player in various brain processes in the brain which help to regulate mood and memory function, making magnesium L-Threonate a good form of magnesium for brain health and function.
Magnesium L-Threonate was developed to efficiently cross the blood-brain barrier and these supplements contain Magtein, a patented form of magnesium developed by a team of neuroscientists at MIT and Tsinghua University in Beijing who bound magnesium to L-Threonate, a vitamin C metabolite. According to Nootropics Depot, L-Threonate is a unique amino acid that enhances mitochondrial function, synaptic density and neuroplasticity on its own. Magnesium is an essential player in various brain processes in the brain that help regulate mood and memory function, making magnesium L-Threonate a good form of magnesium for brain health and function.
According to Nootropics Depot, L-Threonate appears to demonstrate a chemical attraction to the brain, with about five more times L-Threonate in the brain than the rest of the body. Its link to memory and cognition comes in by its ability to elevating magnesium levels in the brain. Magnesium L-Threonate is one of the only forms of magnesium that reaches and enters the brain efficiently at significant levels.
While magnesium L-threonate is lesser known and relatively new, studies have shown that it improves brain plasticity, leading to direct and significant improvements in memory, learning and cognition.[ix]
For example, the journal Neuron reported a study that showed actual enhancement in the learning abilities, working memory, as well as short- and long-term memory of laboratory animals which were given magnesium L-Threonate.[x]
Research also shows that magnesium-L-Threonate enhances brain plasticity in specific regions of the brain most affected by traumatic events. Researchers have found magnesium L-Threonate has beneficial effects for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including helping to speed up the recovery process. As a result, scientists suggest that the supplement could be a novel approach for those suffering from PTSD, anxiety or depression.[xi]
All of these supplements, magnesium L-Theanine, GABA, and magnesium L-Threonate, support improved sleep and can be taken shortly before bedtime. All are available in capsule form. Availability varies by retailer or online retailer though many are widely available at health food retailers, or in the supplement aisle. Follow the recommended daily dosages on the label.
[i] Stress in America 2020: Stress in the Time of COVID-19, Volume One, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report
ii] Michael J. Breus Ph.D., “What You Need to Know About Magnesium and Your Sleep: A sleep-promoting, stress-reducing, disease-protecting, essential mineral,” May 14, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201805/what-you-need-know-about-magnesium-and-your-sleep
[iii] Michael J. Breus Ph.D., “Benefits of GABA: What you should know about a popular supplement for sleep, stress, and anxiety.” Psychology Today, January 3, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201901/3-amazing-benefits-gaba
[iv] Download available at: https://www.goodliferx.com/docs/supplement-info-sheets/10358_GABA-Calm.pdf
[v] “Age-related GABA decline is associated with poor cognition.” ScienceDaily, Elsevier, January 17, 2017 www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170117083327.htm
[vi] Michael J. Breus Ph.D., “Benefits of GABA: What you should know about a popular supplement for sleep, stress, and anxiety.” Psychology Today, January 3, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201901/3-amazing-benefits-gaba
[vii] “L-Theanine as a Functional Food Additive: Its Role in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,” various authors, academic editor: Quan V. Vuong, 7 Beverages 2016, 2 (2), 13, https://www.mdpi.com/2306-5710/2/2/13/htm
[viii] Giesbrecht, J.A. Rycroft, M.J. Rowson, and E.A. De Bruin (2010), “The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness,” Nutritional Neuroscience, Volume 13, 2010, Issue 6, 283-290, DOI: 10.1179/147683010X12611460764840
[ix] “Breakthrough Form Of Magnesium Enhances Memory And Cognitive Function,” Jamie Rivington, October 14, 2016, ProHealth.com, https://www.prohealth.com/library/studies-show-that-magnesium-l-threonate-improves-brain-plasticity-leading-to-direct-and-significant-improvements-in-memory-learning-and-cognition-3-7257
[x] “Enhancement of Learning and Memory by Elevating Brain Magnesium,” various authors, Journal of Neuroscience, Volume 65, Issue 2, January 28, 2010, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.026
[xi] Abumaria N, Yin B, Zhang L, et al. “Effects of elevation of brain magnesium on fear conditioning, fear extinction, and synaptic plasticity in the infralimbic prefrontal cortex and lateral amygdala,” various authors, Journal of Neuroscience, October 2011, 31 (42) 14871-14881; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3782-11.2011