Can zinc help you sleep?

Sarah Hyland

Studying Health Sciences, Writer & Product Trainer
@AvogelUKHealth


28 April 2020

Why would zinc help?

Recent studies have shown that zinc can improve sleep quality1. One study looked at ICU nurses with sleeping issues. This was an interesting group to study because an ICU nursing job can be very stressful. They work very long hours and may have to stay awake when the rest of us are tucked up in bed. Shift work like this can cause long term sleep problems that can have a negative impact on mood and health.

At the start of this study, the ICU nurses with the worst sleep quality were found to have low levels of zinc. Zinc tablets were given to one group while another group was given a placebo. One month later both groups were assessed. The zinc-supplementing group of nurses reported better sleep quality than the placebo group.

Our sleep and waking cycle (or body clock) is one of our original caveman features. Alongside our urge to eat food, we have a natural tendency to sleep in the dark and wake up during the day. There may be personal differences between how much sleep we need or when we like to wake up. Each of us has a natural circadian rhythm which should be the basis for our routine. Many aspects of modern living disturb this natural pattern of day and night, waking and sleeping.

A recent sleep survey2 done in the UK found that only 38% of people felt that they slept well. 79% said that their insomnia had been a problem for over two years. A circadian rhythm that is out of synch can leave you wide awake in the middle of the night. By lunchtime, you can be falling asleep on your laptop.

People who sleep less than five hours a night have been found to take in less zinc than those who sleep for a long time3. Zinc is thought to act as a circadian rhythm regulator. In other words, it may be able to adjust an inner clock that is telling the wrong time. Zinc may be able to induce sleep when sleep is appropriate, usually between 11pm and 7am.

The type of sleep that zinc appears to influence is the non-dreaming part of sleep4. This is called slow-wave sleep; sounds relaxing doesn't it? Like being rocked gently. This is the part of sleep that is important for restoration and repair. Our learning processes benefit from this type of sleep. All of our newly acquired information is committed to memory during this sleep stage.


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Zinc is found in a variety of foods.

  • Shellfish, especially oysters.
  • Meats such as beef and pork.
  • Wholegrain breads, porridge and quinoa.
  • Nuts, seeds and beans.

The plant sources of zinc are not as easily broken down or absorbed by the body, so vegans and vegetarians may need to eat more zinc-rich foods than meat-eaters. Intensive farming methods have reduced the nutritional value of food available today. Our grannies, back in the day, probably didn't have to eat too much to keep on top of their zinc levels. Their basic food was more nutritious. In fairness, they had fewer take-outs too!

Some medical conditions that affect digestion can affect zinc levels, as can a poor diet. Other tell-tale signs that zinc may be low are a poor sense of taste and smell, dermatitis and low immunity.

So, consider your zinc levels when you are asking yourself, 'Why can't I sleep?'
Here are some other good tips for helping to get a good night's sleep. It all helps!

References

1 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2165079917734880

2 https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/sleep-problems-in-the-uk-highlighted/

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5713303/
4 https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/articles/201807/zzzz-zinc

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The wrong sleep position can not only negatively impact the quality of your sleep, it can also have an impact your posture, your joints, your digestion and even your face by making wrinkles worse!

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