Insomnia comes in a variety of forms—difficulty falling asleep, waking up often, poor quality sleep—all of which leave a person exhausted. Worst of all, insomnia is common: about 50% of older adults complain of insomnia and even more say they sleep poorly. A new study on melatonin, magnesium, and zinc to ease insomnia brings hope for a better night’s rest to the millions who struggle with the condition.
A soothing supplement solution
Researchers studied how a melatonin, magnesium, and zinc supplement affected insomnia symptoms among 43 senior residents of a long-term care facility. Study participants were an average of 78 years old and had all been diagnosed with insomnia, with no obvious medical or physical causes (known as “primary insomnia”).
The researchers randomly selected participants to receive a supplement containing 5 mg melatonin, 225 mg magnesium, and 11.25 mg zinc mixed with 100 grams of pear pulp, or a placebo supplement of just 100 grams pear pulp. These were taken one hour prior to bedtime each day for eight weeks.
The participants provided information on their insomnia symptoms at the beginning and the end of the study. Compared with the placebo group, those who received nutrients reported:
Significantly better sleep quality
Improved ability to fall asleep
Significant decreases in feeling “hungover” from lack of sleep
Significantly improved alertness upon waking in the morning
Increased sleep length, as measured by a wrist monitor that tracks sleep
Getting good rest
This study suggests that among older adults who have trouble sleeping, a melatonin, zinc, and magnesium supplement can significantly improve symptoms of insomnia. Our tips on safely using a sleep-enhancing supplement and other ways to improve your sleep will help you find your way to dream time.
Take stock. Make a complete list of all of the medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and dietary supplements you currently take. Bring this list to your doctor and ask if it’s safe for you to try supplementing with melatonin, magnesium, and zinc to address poor sleep.
Give it time. For many, a dietary supplement will need to be used consistently for several days to weeks before sleep quality will begin to noticeably improve.
Manage mood. Melatonin can affect mood, so if you’ve had or been treated for mood disorders, such as depression, be sure to discuss this with your doctor before starting a melatonin supplement.
Cool it on caffeine. Avoid caffeine—from sources such as coffee, tea, and chocolate—after 2pm.
Establish routine. Try to keep consistent sleep and wake times during the week, and on the weekends, if possible.
Banish sleep killers. Darkness triggers a signal to your body to produce its own melatonin. Keep your bedroom cool and dark, as even the glow from a cell phone or alarm clock can disrupt sleep. Use heavy curtains or an eyeshade to make sure no light gets through.
(J Am Geriatr Soc 2011; 59:82–90)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.