Magnesium for Sleep: What Sleep Specialists Say You Need To Know

Magnesium is an essential nutrient that you need for good health. Could supplementing with it help you sleep better?

We know sleep is important, but just how important might surprise you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a lack of sleep is associated with many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Not getting enough sleep also increases your risk of injury at work and your chances of getting into a motor vehicle accident.

Considering the importance of sleep, it's important to check in with your doctor if you aren't sleeping well because certain underlying health conditions can be the cause of sleep disruption. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, these conditions can include sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, depression, and anxiety. It's important to get to the root of the sleep problem.

But sometimes nothing concrete is behind the sleep issue, and getting more rest might come down to changing your lifestyle habits. This could include taking melatonin or experimenting with CBD. But there's another route you might not have heard of: magnesium—an essential nutrient found in many foods that some believe may help improve sleep quality.

What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in many bodily functions, so getting enough magnesium is important for multiple reasons. First, magnesium is necessary for your body to produce enough energy. Magnesium also plays a part in the development of bones, and it even contributes to key bodily functions such as a normal heart rhythm, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Good food sources of magnesium include leafy green veggies like spinach, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, according to the NIH.

Can Taking Magnesium Help You Sleep?

There's a theory that magnesium aids sleep by calming down the central nervous system, according to Daniel Barone, MD, associate medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine, an associate professor of Clinical Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, attending neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and author of Let's Talk about Sleep: A Guide to Understanding and Improving Your Slumber. "A lot of this stuff is kind of peripheral in terms of hardcore science," said Dr. Barone.

Cinthya Pena Orbea, MD, sleep specialist at Cleveland Clinic, explained how the theory gained popularity, even though magnesium hasn't yet been definitively proven to improve sleep quality. "People sometimes refer to that because there were some studies done earlier, [but] they were not strong," explained Dr. Orbea.

Case in point: One 2021 review of the literature published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies determined that some studies on magnesium supplementation in older adults were subpar and couldn't be used for healthcare providers to make well-informed recommendations regarding patients taking magnesium for sleep.

However, the same researchers also felt that other well-developed studies did support the use of low-dose oral magnesium supplementation for older adults.

Of note: Older adults are more likely to be magnesium deficient compared to younger adults, according to research published in 2021 in the journal Nutrients. The reasons include eating fewer foods high in magnesium, impaired absorption of magnesium, and peeing more of it out. So it makes sense that magnesium supplementation might help older adults sleep better if they're already low in the mineral.

Other studies suggest that magnesium might help you sleep better when it's combined with other supplements. For example, in a 2019 issue of Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, researchers gave patients diagnosed with insomnia a combo of magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B complex. After three months of supplementation, researchers felt that this triad of supplements had a beneficial effect on insomnia regardless of its cause.

While this doesn't prove that magnesium alone can help with sleep, taking a magnesium supplement each night before bed won't necessarily hurt you. It is recommended, however, that you see your healthcare provider first before you start popping magnesium supplements at bedtime. They, along with sleep specialists, can rule out any treatable root causes of your sleep issues. Once other causes have been ruled out, it can't hurt to try turning to magnesium if you're still having trouble sleeping, said Dr. Barone.

How Can You Safely Take Magnesium for Sleep?

Getting more magnesium through your diet is an easy way to up your intake if you think magnesium might help you rest easier. The NIH recommends that all females aged 19 to 30 get 310 milligrams of magnesium each day. From age 31 on, the recommended intake is 320 milligrams. These amounts increase if you're pregnant to 350 milligrams for those aged 19 to 30 and 360 milligrams for those aged 31 to 50.

Taking a magnesium supplement before bed each night is another option, though you should run this by your healthcare provider first since it's a good idea to let them know about any new supplements or medications you're on. "Everybody who's taking any kind of supplement should let their doctor know," said Dr. Barone.

As with anything, more is not necessarily better. Going overboard with the magnesium could be dangerous. "Magnesium in high concentrations could raise magnesium levels in blood, [and] that can affect the heart," explained Dr. Barone.

And while the kidneys typically pee out any extra magnesium in healthy individuals, too much magnesium from supplements can also give you diarrhea and abdominal cramps, per the NIH.

If your physician okays your decision to take magnesium, it's crucial—as it is with all medications—to stick to the recommended dosage on the label and watch for any unwanted side effects of taking too much of it. After all, running to the toilet in the middle of the night kind of defeats the purpose of taking magnesium to get more sleep.

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