By Sharon Puello MA, RD, CDN
Many of us take for granted the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Have you ever said to yourself I’ll be fine running on just a couple of hours of sleep? I’ll catch up when I can. We often see the short-term effects of this such as irritability and trouble functioning at our best, but we overlook the long-term consequences. But can we ever catch up?
A recent study in the Journal of Diabetes Medicine suggests that how long we sleep at night can affect our chances of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. The study followed 17,983 adults with pre-diabetes and found that those who slept 5 hours or less had a 68% greater chance of transitioning from pre-diabetes to diabetes, with gradual decreases in risk the longer a person reported sleeping nightly (6 hrs = 44% greater risk, 8 hrs = 23% greater risk).
You might wonder how could the length of time you sleep possibly be related to your chances of developing diabetes? The answer may lie in one tiny, often overlooked mineral; magnesium. With symptoms of deficiency including insomnia, anxiety, migraines, and muscle cramps and spasms just to name a few, it’s easy to see why low magnesium levels might keep you up at night.
Taking a closer look at magnesium we find that one of its very important functions include helping the body to regulate the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is often sold as a natural sleep aid, and in some formulations is combined with magnesium and zinc to help enhance its effects. This special combination of melatonin and minerals has been found to be especially effective for treating sleep disturbances for the elderly. Often, people worry about the side effects of taking prescription medications, including those for sleep. Few however realize that magnesium binds to the same neurotransmitter (GABA) that traditional prescription sleep medications bind to, reducing nerve activity and improving sleep without the potential for added side effects that come with prescription medications.
Adequate magnesium in the body is essential to restful sleep, but also blood sugar control. Another very important function of magnesium lies in its role in helping the pancreas to regulate how much insulin it releases. Not only have multiple studies shown that magnesium-rich diets are correlated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus in adults, children and teens with diets low in magnesium have also been found to have increased prevalence of insulin resistance which is often a precursor to developing diabetes in the future. When blood sugars are higher than normal, as is the case with pre-diabetes, it can pull magnesium into the urine where it is excreted versus being utilized by the body, thus further affecting insulin and blood sugar levels.
Though there are many rich food sources of magnesium including nuts and seeds (especially almonds and pumpkin seeds), green leafy vegetables such as spinach, and black beans just to name a few, due to decreased quality of the soil in which these foods are grown, questions exist as to whether these foods still contain magnesium in abundant quantities. Additionally, if you are taking medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) or antacids to reduce stomach acid magnesium absorption can be impaired; taking diuretics can send much needed magnesium out of the body in the urine in large quantities.
Simple blood tests for magnesium levels are often highly inaccurate due to the very small percentage of magnesium actually circulating in the blood (most rests in the bones and tissues). Normal blood values are often returned, even in the case of deficiency the body will always try to normalize blood levels by robbing the magnesium from the bones. By the time a blood test comes back for low magnesium levels, deficiency is often more severe, and the bones have likely been compromised. An RBC magnesium test however can be a better indicator of early deficiency.
If the symptoms you’re feeling lead you to contemplate taking a magnesium supplement, consider speaking with your healthcare professional for additional guidance, as co-supplementation with zinc and vitamin B-6 may be recommended.
Looking to EduPlate yourself with the help of a dietitian coach? Download our app to get started today!
To receive weekly nutritional content (advice, recipes, and tips) shared by our team of qualified dietitians be sure to subscribe!