Getting enough sleep is absolutely critical for staying healthy and losing weight. But, doing so isn’t always easy. Instead, many people struggle with insomnia, finding that they simply aren’t getting the sleep that they want and need.
There are many changes that you can make to try and improve sleep, such as decreasing caffeine intake and practicing a healthy sleep routine. Yet, as useful as these ideas are, they’re not always enough.
Instead, many people turn to supplements and magnesium has become a popular example. The compound does have significant implications for health and a range of impacts on the body. But, can magnesium help you sleep?
Magnesium is a common mineral, something that we need for our bodies to function. It also plays many different roles in the human body, including in hundreds of cellular reactions (1).
The mineral can be found in a range of foods and is also present in many multivitamin supplements, although the dose is often lower than you may like.
However, even with these patterns, there may be benefits to supplementing magnesium. For example, doing so has been linked to decreasing inflammatory stress, lowering blood pressure and improving sleep (2,3).
For sleep, the significance of magnesium is associated with relaxing.
These patterns can play a key role in promoting sleep for some people. After all, stress and anxiety are key reasons why people struggle to sleep in the first place. Additionally, magnesium may interact with melatonin, which is a key component of our body’s sleep and wake patterns (8).
As such, there truly is the potential for magnesium to help with sleep. But, the impacts aren’t dramatic. So, taking a magnesium supplement is never going to feel like a sleeping pill and it won’t instantly knock you out.
That’s not a bad thing though, as sleeping pills can be risky. For one thing, they are associated with a range of side effects, including impacts on behavior (9,10). Additionally, relying on them can promote an unhealthy relationship with sleep, making it harder for people to fall asleep naturally in the long-term (11).
In contrast, magnesium basically acts to make sleep easier and can potentially promote healthier outcomes overall.
Evidence from Research
There is also some research that supports these outcomes. For example, one study gave participants either a placebo or 500 mg of magnesium across an 8-week period (12).
The authors found that supplementation with magnesium significantly improved a range of measures. These included:
- Sleep time
- Sleep efficiency
- ISI (Insomnia Severity Score)
- Melatonin concentration (a sleep hormone)
- Renin concentration (another sleep hormone)
As such, there was a strong indication that magnesium supplementation helped increase sleep quality and the ability to go to sleep.
A second study also found similar results for patients with insomnia (13). However, the outcomes of that research were less definitive, as the supplement included 225 mg of magnesium, 11.25 mg of zinc and 5 mg melatonin). As a result, it isn’t clear which effects the magnesium caused.
These two studies represent the bulk of current research into this field, meaning there is much that we don’t know.
At the same time, both studies were conducted on seniors. The choice of sample group is a significant issue, as it means we don’t know whether or not similar benefits would exist for other parts of the population.
The Case of Magnesium Deficiency
On a related note, being deficient in magnesium can also contribute to sleep problems and even insomnia (14,15,16). As a result, people who are deficient in the mineral may see significant sleep benefits associated with supplementation.
Some groups are also at a higher risk of magnesium deficiency, including older adults, along with people with alcohol dependence, gastrointestinal disease or type 2 diabetes (17).
Additionally, as Dr. Mercola highlights, magnesium deficiency isn’t that easy to spot and many people may not even know they are deficient. If this is the case for you, increasing magnesium intake could help improve sleep through this mechanism, along with the ones mentioned above.
There are, however, some key symptoms of magnesium deficiency that you can look out for.
Taking Magnesium Supplements
Most discussions of magnesium and sleep are focused on the idea of using magnesium supplements. And, this may work for some people. However, if you’re struggling to sleep, lifestyle changes should always be your first step.
For example, Wellness Mama has a great article on creating the right sleep environment, a process that can have a large impact on your ability to sleep.
Likewise, Authority Nutrition has a list of 17 ways to sleep better at night and these tips can be effective for many people.
Essential oils can also play a role in promoting sleep, as can having a healthy diet and getting enough exercise.
But, if you’ve already tried those ideas, magnesium supplements may be a useful next step. So, what do you need to know?
The recommended daily intake for magnesium is between 400 and 420 mg per day for adult women and 310 to 360 mg per day for adult males (18). This level of intake may be enough to prevent deficiency but it isn’t clear whether it is sufficient to promote optimal sleep.
The recommended levels also refer to total magnesium intake, including any magnesium supplements you might be taking. After all, you will be getting some magnesium from your diet.
With so few studies on the topic, there isn’t enough data to provide a recommended supplement dose either.
In particular, the two studies mentioned previously used either 250 mg or 500 mg per day, and it isn’t clear how much magnesium participants were already consuming.
However, official recommendations put the tolerable levels for magnesium supplements at 350 mg (19). As such, you should seek medical oversight before taking stronger supplements.
Interactions and Side Effects
Magnesium supplementation should always be considered with care because the supplements can interact with many different medications (20). In particular, the key types to watch out for are:
- Proton pump inhibitors
Realistically, you should be consulting with your doctor about interactions if you are taking any medications at all or if you have a health condition.
There are also related side effects, including diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramping. Extremely high doses of magnesium (often greater than 5,000 mg per day) can also result in toxicity and may even be fatal (21), but you wouldn’t ever be taking that type of dose.
Interestingly, the various side effects and interactions are mostly associated with supplementing magnesium, rather than having it in food (22).
Should You Supplement?
If you are going to use a magnesium supplement, it’s important to choose a high-quality brand that has a dose of 350 mg or less. This product is one such example and also has the advantage of passing external testing.
But, as is often the case, supplementation shouldn’t be the first step. Instead, it’s always better to get your nutrients from your diet. This is particularly significant because of how various vitamins and minerals interact with one another (such as calcium, vitamin D and magnesium).
For that matter, there are many different sources of magnesium that you can turn to. Dr. Axe highlights some of these in his list of 10 magnesium rich foods. So, in most cases, you would be able to get the magnesium you need from your diet, without having to supplement.
If nothing else, it’s worth starting off with dietary sources of magnesium. You can then choose to supplement if you find you aren’t getting enough or feel like your sleep isn’t improving.
So, Can Magnesium Help You Sleep?
The simple answer is that magnesium may improve your sleep – but the effect is far from proven. Instead, direct research has just been conducted in seniors, which isn’t helpful to the majority of the population.
At the same time, the amount of research available is minimal, which limits the conclusions that we can draw.
Still, there are viable mechanisms for how magnesium could improve sleep, especially as magnesium seems to aid in relaxation and reducing anxiety. At the same time, magnesium has fewer risks and potential side effects than many over-the-counter sleeping pills and can be a natural way to try and improve sleep.
If you are interested in doing so, then the best way to start is with magnesium from whole foods. Doing so also exposes you to a range of other nutrients, many of which may help to promote overall health.
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