Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.
Magnesium is a relatively new treatment recommendation for better sleep. This nutrient plays a large role in sleep regulation. Current research shows that additional magnesium can help the body relax and even improve symptoms of insomnia.
If you are interested in using magnesium as a natural sleep aid, talk to your doctor about whether it might work for you.
Magnesium is a nutrient essential for more than 300 processes in your body. Magnesium maintains a healthy immune system, regulates muscle and nerve function, ensures a steady blood pressure, and keeps your bones strong. Magnesium also helps manage blood sugar levels and is needed for protein and energy production.
Health experts recommend adults take in 300 to 420 milligrams of magnesium daily. The appropriate amount depends on your sex, age, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Without magnesium supplements, as many as 48% of Americans do not get enough daily magnesium.
Certain groups are at higher risk for insufficient magnesium levels:
You can find magnesium naturally in many foods, including:
You can also find magnesium in fortified foods. Many breakfast cereals have added magnesium.
Additional magnesium in your diet has the potential to help you sleep better. While researchers recognize that magnesium plays an important role in sleep regulation, they do not fully understand the effect of magnesium on sleep behaviors.
What’s clear from the research is that a lack of magnesium negatively impacts sleep. A serious shortage of magnesium in the body is rare. However, some of the signs of insufficient magnesium in your diet are muscle weakness and tiredness. Low levels of magnesium are associated with poor sleep quality and insomnia. Anxiety and depression also correlate with low magnesium levels, and both anxiety and depression can contribute to insomnia.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder where you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. People with insomnia experience a lack of energy and don’t feel refreshed in the morning. They may also struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability, anxiety, or depression.
Research shows that magnesium may help improve insomnia symptoms. In a study of elderly patients with insomnia, taking 500 mg of magnesium daily for eight weeks improved many subjective and objective measures of insomnia. The patients:
Other studies have produced similar results. Patients given a combination supplement of magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B for three months also experienced significant benefits in the management of their insomnia. The combination reduced insomnia symptoms and side effects, leading to a better quality of life.
People with restless leg syndrome (RLS) experience uncontrollable urges to move the limbs and sometimes cramping or crawling sensations, often peaking in the evening hours when at rest. The sensation makes falling asleep difficult and can wake you out of your sleep.
Research shows mixed results when using magnesium to treat patients with RLS. One small study found that sleep efficiency increased significantly, from 75% to 85%, when RLS patients took magnesium for 4 to 6 weeks. Other studies have shown that magnesium salts may reduce leg cramps during pregnancy.
In contrast, a study of magnesium as a treatment for nocturnal leg cramps in older adults showed no significant change in symptoms. More research needs to be done to determine who can benefit from magnesium as treatment for RLS, and therefore improve their sleep.
In addition to improving sleep, magnesium supplements can be used to treat other health conditions:
Magnesium supplements, when taken in appropriate doses, pose few risks. The kidneys of healthy individuals can eliminate any extra magnesium in the urine. If you take high-dose magnesium medications or dietary supplements, you may experience:
In addition, extremely high intakes of magnesium can lead to an irregular heartbeat. Taking magnesium with food can reduce the likelihood of these symptoms.
Magnesium can also interact with certain medications. Consult your doctor and review your current medications with them before starting magnesium supplements.
The supplement you should take ultimately depends on your goals for sleep. Magnesium helps the body relax. This nutrient reduces stress and helps you sleep longer. In contrast, melatonin helps you get to sleep faster. Both magnesium and melatonin can be used to treat insomnia, sometimes even in combination.
Always consult with your healthcare provider to determine which supplement is right for you.
Before starting magnesium supplements, focus on getting the proper amount of nutrients in your diet. According to the American Dietary Guidelines for 2020-2025, you should meet most of your nutritional needs by consuming nutrient-dense food and beverages. This includes vegetables, whole fruits, grains and whole grains, dairy, and protein foods.
If you are still having difficulty sleeping, consult your healthcare provider. You want to verify there are no underlying sleep disorders or other concerns affecting your sleep. Then you can talk to your doctor about additional magnesium supplements. Be sure to talk about your current medications, as you want to ensure the magnesium will not interfere with other medications.
While you can take magnesium in the hours before bedtime, as is recommended for melatonin, you can alternatively take magnesium supplements during the day. The time you take magnesium often depends on any other medications you are taking. For example, you should take antibiotics either 2 hours before or 4 to 6 hours after taking magnesium. Consult your healthcare provider to determine what type of magnesium supplement you should take and what time you should take it to improve your sleep.