If you tend to toss and turn at night, you might be looking for just about any solution to get some shut-eye; but does magnesium help you sleep? We decided to dig into the issue and consult an expert who explained how magnesium could support a better night’s snooze, and when you should choose to steer clear of magnesium supplements.
A decent night’s slumber is vital for your body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a whopping 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Adequate sleep is crucial for your body’s recovery, growth, and repair, and, over time, poor sleep can negatively affect mood, stress levels, metabolism, and even your immune system.
But is magnesium the savior we’ve been looking for? Rohini Bajekal, certified nutritionist and board-certified lifestyle medicine professional at Plant-Based Health Professional, tells us that magnesium is an abundant mineral that regulates several processes in your body — like nerve and muscle function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure.
Magnesium could even boost melatonin production in the body and play a role in sleep regulation, helping you finally reach a good night’s sleep. Find out how below.
Magnesium to help sleep – does it work?
Bajekal explains the research: “There is limited evidence to support everyone at a population level taking magnesium supplements for insomnia. However, magnesium has been found to support restful and restorative deep sleep. It does so by maintaining healthy levels of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) —a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that has sleep-enhancing and stress-reducing effects.”
The research would agree, showing that magnesium can stimulate GABA and even bind to the neurotransmitter, helping to slow down nerve activity and allowing you to drift off more peacefully. It is thought magnesium could ‘soothe’ the nervous system and brain activity, helping you to shut off more quickly.
Bajekal says it is suspected that magnesium deficiencies can contribute to poor sleep by disrupting nerve signaling and altering levels of sleep-inducing hormones such as melatonin.
Magnesium supplements are sometimes prescribed to boost melatonin and improve sleep. Some evidence, like this journal published in the Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, has shown that 500mg of magnesium increased sleep time, cycle efficiency, and melatonin concentration, decreasing insomnia scores.
In the double-blind clinical trial, 46 elderly subjects were randomly allocated 500mg of magnesium or a placebo daily for eight weeks. The group that supplemented magnesium showed a significant increase in the above (cycle efficiency, melatonin concentration and so on) and fell asleep more quickly, with a decrease in early waking. Pretty impressive.
Finally, there is even some compelling evidence that magnesium can help reduce anxiety, a common symptom of those who struggle to slumber. MMW Advances in Medicine found that introducing magnesium helped regulate the parasympathetic and sympathetic (your fight-or-flight reaction to stress) nervous systems and reduce symptoms like restless leg syndrome, exacerbated by magnesium deficiency.
The research goes some way to explaining how a magnesium supplement could help send you off at night. But before we hail magnesium as a wonder supplement, Bajekal warns that current studies are limited and fixed on a small scale, and there are other factors to consider.
Should I take magnesium?
Bajekal explains that certain groups appear more prone to deficiency than others.
“As magnesium deficiency and increased urinary magnesium excretion (losing magnesium through your urine) can occur in people with insulin resistance, women with PCOS may benefit from magnesium supplementation, as well as those with restless legs syndrome and the elderly," she noted.
But she warns it is difficult to assess your ‘magnesium status’ because most of it lives inside your cells or bones. Regardless, focus on getting your sources from food before turning to supplements.
“Dietary surveys of people in the UK and USA consistently show that many of us consume less than recommended amounts of magnesium,” warns Bajekal.
According to the National Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), the daily recommended intake for healthy adults ranges between 300-400mg, depending on factors like age and pregnancy. Thankfully, magnesium is readily available in food and (for most people) doesn’t require supplementation.
“I recommend including plenty of nutritious plant-based foods in the diet – dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, legumes such as chickpeas and soya, whole grains, and nuts and seeds," Bajekal suggests.
Various types of meat like chicken and beef are also solid sources of magnesium, and even mineral water can help you chuck in some extra doses — without the added calories. By maintaining a healthy diet, you’ll likely hit your daily target without much problem.
However, there are other instances where people might find it harder. Poor diet, certain medications, or chronic conditions like Crohn’s or Celiac disease could increase your risk of deficiency.
When to take magnesium for sleep
At this point, if you are not getting enough magnesium in your diet, visit your doctor to discuss any underlying health conditions or contraindications to magnesium supplements, and when to take them if they’re suitable. They can diagnose magnesium deficiency and decide if supplementation is necessary.
According to the ODS, the symptoms of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, and weakness which could develop into numbness, tingling, cramps, and irregular heartbeat.
Your first step should be to look at your current diet and try to be as balanced and varied as possible, including magnesium-rich foods daily. We’ve put together some handy tips on how to sleep better naturally, which include expert advice like avoiding blue light before bed and stretching to help improve your nighttime sleep routine.
But is too much sleep a problem too? An expert discusses oversleeping causes to help you reach that Goldilocks bedtime routine — just right. If you are taking magnesium supplements, current recommendations say to take them 1-2 hours (consistently) before bedtime for sleep.
For other fitness and wellness tips, check out how we tried following a keto diet for a month, some of the best meal kit delivery services, and discover what is an orthopedic mattress and how it can improve your sleep.
And for more sleep specific tips, check out this TikTok doctor's tips on how to nap and still sleep well at night and how doctors recommend sleep this sleep app for insomnia.
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Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods. When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.