Thomas Edison probably didn't think artificial light would dictate when and how poorly we fall asleep. But new research suggests there might be a key mineral to keeping us running like a big, fleshy clock, regardless of the screens blasting our brains with light.
A University of Edinburgh study released Wednesday found magnesium, a mineral found in nuts, fish and dark leafy greens, helps cells maintain the circadian rhythm humans have used for centuries — the one that regulates your sleep, wake time, hormones and body temperature.
As we go through the day, our magnesium levels rise and fall. That's because magnesium impacts how cells convert nutrients into energy around the clock.
Researchers already knew magnesium helps us turn food into energy. But with this study, they were able to show that it controls when, and how well, that conversion occurs. Basically, it makes sure you're revved-up enough to go for a run early in the day, but tired enough to pass out in front of the TV when it gets dark out.
Magnesium makes sure you're revved-up enough to go for a run early in the day, but tired enough to pass out in front of the TV when it gets dark out.
"Internal clocks are fundamental to all living things," Dr. Gerben von Ooijen, lead on the study, said in a statement. "They influence many aspects of health and disease in our own bodies."
Why it matters: Knowing how magnesium influences your circadian rhythm means big things for chronotherapy, a form of psychotherapy based on the body's natural cycles, which is used to treat depression.
In agriculture, differing magnesium levels can actually yield a different crop, which is why shade and soil content matters in places like Napa Valley's vineyards. Magnesium levels can even shift the harvesting season, ostensibly to match up with an early or late winter.
What's great about this discovery is, if your sleep is irregular and you want to control your own circadian rhythm, you can probably help your clock get back on track by choosing more magnesium-rich foods. Fortunately, some of the tastiest foods have high concentrations of magnesium: dark chocolate, avocados, bananas and a host of others.
So if you can't get yourself on a normal sleep schedule, eat the hell out of those. Science says it's cool.