Believe it or not, athletes often experience trouble sleeping, particularly before the day of their competition. Other causes such as traveling from place to place, packed game schedules, and prior injury or pain can also hinder them from getting enough rest. All these and more can cost them a crucial win—or, worse, their entire athletic career. There are a few supplements to help us rest better such as magnesium glycinate, melatonin, and ZMA, but which supplement reigns supreme?
Because most of these causes are inevitable in sports, athletes often search for ways to help them sleep better. One method that has been recently gaining popularity involves intaking magnesium glycinate, a compound made with magnesium and the amino acid glycine.
Here’s a look into this supplement and how it can help mitigate sleepless nights.
Athlete Sleep Troubles
Athletes fully understand the importance of getting enough rest, whether or not the big game’s just around the corner. As a 2016 study in Finland showed, one in four athletes suffer from sleep issues such as difficulty falling asleep and snoring. They end up not getting enough rest, with one in six often resorting to sleeping pills over the game season. (1)
Researchers believe that amateur athletes feel the greater brunt of lack of sleep, as they have to balance sports and school. As the following items explain, the amount of sleep that athletes lose depends on the sport they’re playing:
- Swimmers get only an average of 5.4 hours of sleep the night before training day and 7.1 hours on rest days, both of which aren’t adequately long enough. (2)
- Football players sleep for around 3 hours less after training and 2.5 hours less after a nighttime game. (2)
- Those who play high-impact sports with a high risk of injury (e.g., basketball, ice hockey, etc.) are 1.7 times more likely to get hurt if they sleep for less than 8 hours (2)
There’s plenty of research to support the notion of sleep improving overall performance, from running faster to lasting longer in the game. Experts say sleep is the only suitable time for the body to repair the damage. Most bodily functions slow down when in deep slumber, allowing repairs to occur at a manageable pace.
A Sleep-Friendly Combination
As much as athletes want to get adequate sleep before and after a game, their schedule typically doesn’t allow it. Professional athletes, for instance, train for around five to six hours every day for six days a week. It might not look like a lot, but the rigors of pro-level training will make those five to six hours really long.
As such, the use of sleep aids isn’t uncommon among athletes, namely magnesium glycinate for sleep improvement. As their generic name implies, this supplement consists of two substances, magnesium, and glycine. Knowing the effects of each of the two is essential.
Magnesium is relatively well-known among the essential nutrients; after all, it’s one of the most abundant minerals in the body. It’s heavily involved in more than 600 cellular reactions, most of which are relevant in athletic training. These reactions include protein formation, muscle movement, and energy conversion.
But what about improving sleep? Some evidence suggests that it plays a role in helping the body and mind relax. One study shows that a daily magnesium intake of 400 mg has resulted in increased activity within the parasympathetic nervous system. This division of the nervous system is in charge of facilitating activities when the body’s at rest. (3)
Magnesium also binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors, which decreases nervous activity when prompted. It doesn’t necessarily make one fall asleep but merely prepares the body to do so. (3)
Having trouble sleeping may point to a lack of magnesium in the body, which is a prevalent trend among Americans. One study estimates that half of the US population isn’t getting its recommended daily allowance of magnesium—420 mg for males, 320 mg for females. (4)
So taking magnesium to help promote better sleep also helps ensure sufficient quantities for the body to synthesize. The cellular reactions it supports are too significant, especially when it comes to athletic training.
Glycine is one of the 20 amino acids the body uses for protein formation. It’s considered a non-essential amino acid, as the body can produce it using other chemicals. Glycine is unlike the essential amino acids that need to come from food. However, glycine is also present in a well-rounded diet.
Amino acids playing a role in promoting sleep isn’t unusual, though health experts don’t fully understand how they work yet. Glycine is such an example, which many believe to increase the production of serotonin. While it helps put the body in a deep sleep, serotonin is more concerned with producing the primary sleep hormone known as melatonin. (5)
By providing enough sleep hormones in a short period, a person can fall asleep more quickly. According to one test, just taking three grams of glycine can improve sleep without disrupting sleep cycles. To put it simply, it won’t make a person feel as groggy the next day as other sleep aids.
Glycine is also fast-acting when taken orally. It takes advantage of glycine transporters to gain direct access to the brain. Upon arrival, it’ll target particular receptors in the brain’s biological clock to work its magic.
Combined, magnesium glycinate is a natural sleep aid that’s effective at two jobs. Aside from helping a person fall asleep faster, it also serves as a magnesium supplement (though similar sleep aids may contain other nutrients).
Do You Need it, or Not?
According to health experts, magnesium glycinate is a safe supplement, though it’s better to consult your physician first. There are several essential points to consider before deciding if it’s a necessary addition to the current diet.
Current Dietary Intake
Even if magnesium deficiency is relatively common among Americans, it all boils down to the right food. As mentioned earlier, magnesium is an abundant nutrient in the body, even more in one’s diet. As an adult body only holds 25 g of magnesium at a given time, the rest of it will have to come from any of the following. Take note, this list is by no means exhaustive:
- One ounce of roasted pumpkin seeds – 156 mg (37% DV)
- One ounce of dry-roasted almonds – 80 mg (19% DV)
- A half-cup of boiled spinach – 78 mg (19% DV)
- One cup of plain or vanilla soymilk – 61 mg (15% DV)
- Two tbsp of smooth peanut butter – 49 mg (12% DV)
- Eight ounces of low-fat plain yogurt – 42 mg (10% DV)
- Three ounces of cooked halibut – 24 mg (6% DV)
Magnesium is abundant in nature—namely, in legumes and leafy greens. Most people don’t think if they’re getting enough because anything they eat or drink contains magnesium to some degree. If your regular diet consists mainly of the listed foods, you’re most likely getting enough.
However, keep in mind that typically only up to 40% of magnesium in food makes it to the body. At best, a half-cup of boiled spinach that contains 78 mg may only deliver a little more than 30 mg to the body. It may not be a big deal for ordinary people, but athletes need every bit of nutrients they can get, especially since they’re always perspiring.
In one study, sweating during rigorous training exercises can increase an athlete’s magnesium needs by as much as 20%. Those most vulnerable to magnesium deficiency participate in sports that harness weight control, like wrestlers and gymnasts. Researchers of that study recommend increasing intake through supplementation.
The kidney is responsible for flushing out anything in excess in the body through urine, including nutrients like magnesium. Experts say taking too much magnesium in food isn’t typically an issue since a healthy kidney can expel the excess and maintain balance.
Unfortunately, for all their dedication to fitness, athletes aren’t immune to kidney-related illnesses. Several studies have discovered that those taking part in high-endurance sports such as marathons are at risk of acute kidney injury. The risk increases if these events are in tropical countries where heat strain and dehydration are factors.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, magnesium accumulation isn’t known to harm the kidney directly. However, an ailing kidney means too much of the nutrient will remain in the bloodstream, possibly leading to hypermagnesemia. Although a rare illness, its symptoms include hypotension and cardiac arrest.
Hypermagnesemia isn’t the only magnesium-related condition caused by kidney disease. There’s also hypomagnesemia or too little magnesium in the blood, which can be as fatal as hyper. Research has linked this condition to sudden death among athletes.
Overall, magnesium isn’t all that different from other nutrients—too much or too little of it is bad for one’s health. Kidney conditions can complicate the need for supplements, in which seeking a specialist’s opinion is imperative.
Before considering sleep aids, health experts recommend looking into the causes of sleep troubles. Sometimes, the root of the problem might not be a lack of magnesium but rather a lack of willpower to go to sleep.
For instance, when it comes to using their devices before tucking in, athletes aren’t any different from the rest of the world. The blue light emitted by electronic gadgets is known to disrupt melatonin production. For the record, any wavelength of light can do this. But blue light does it best, suppressing melatonin for twice as long.
In a Washington Post interview in 2019, the Washington Wizards team worked around this by resisting the urge to use their devices before bedtime. They also wore a pair of special glasses designed to block blue light when sleeping.
Athletes should first perform an audit of their habits before going to bed. More often than not, the following poor pre-bedtime habits may be wreaking havoc with their sleep cycles:
- Having a large meal before bedtime
- Taking daytime naps for too long
- Smoking or drinking alcohol before going to bed
- Keeping busy until the last moment before bedtime
- Sleeping under non-conducive conditions
- Having inconsistent sleep hours every day
Some of these habits may be unavoidable—at least during the season—but they’re not an excuse to defer from self-assessing sleep needs. Changing these bad habits should take priority over everything else, even taking sleep aids.
If this is the case, then when do sleep aids like magnesium glycinate become necessary? Researchers specify three appropriate circumstances:
- Before and after training or the game
- Resist the effects of jet lag
- When suffering from insomnia
Magnesium Glycinate is Not a Standalone Measure
Magnesium glycinate and other drugs are known as supplements or sleep aids for a reason. They don’t specifically make people sleep but help them do so. Improving quality sleep doesn’t hinge on one solution but rather a multitude.
So far, this post has already established magnesium glycinate as an effective athletic sleep aid. But to enhance its effects, athletes must take additional steps to get better sleep in the long run. Below are some surefire ways:
- Arrange a sleep-friendly room: As mentioned earlier, non-conducive room conditions can affect sleep cycles. A bedroom may be too hot or too cold or has too many light sources come bedtime. Experts suggest sleeping in a room that mitigates noise and light and maintains ambient temperature (60°F to 75°F). Investing in the most comfortable pillows and mattresses also help.
- Keep to a sleep schedule: When out of town, consider the local time. Experts say you’d want to remain awake if you arrive at your destination in daylight to adjust accordingly. To reduce sleep cycle disruption, wear a pair of sunglasses or take sleep aids before local bedtime.
- Eat dinner three hours before bedtime: The digestive system needs time to break down whatever you had for dinner. As a rule of thumb, wait for two to three hours (three hours if suffering from acid reflux) before going to bed. Doing this reduces the risk of heartburn and insomnia. Avoid eating during this time, as it’ll only put off the waiting period later in the evening.
There’s no doubt that sleep aids contribute to overall sleep quality, as substantial research has shown. However, like any health discovery, experts have yet to fully understand them. Athletes should develop healthy sleep habits while taking such supplements to help them rest their weary bodies and minds.
- “Sleep disorders common in athletes, but easily fixable”, Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160519082056.htm
- “Sleep & Elite Athletic Performance”, Source: https://practicalneurology.com/articles/2019-mar-apr/sleep–elite-athletic-performance
- “How Magnesium Can Help You Sleep”, Source: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-and-sleep
- “Study: Half of All Americans are Magnesium Deficient,” Source: https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/study-half-of-all-americans-are-magnesium-deficient
- “What’s the Difference Between Dopamine and Serotonin?” Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-vs-serotonin