If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, which can have a negative impact on their overall health and well-being.
Fortunately, there are natural remedies that can help, and magnesium is one of the best. In this article, we’ll explore the role of magnesium in sleep and discuss the best forms of magnesium to take for optimal sleep quality.
Whether you’re dealing with occasional insomnia or chronic sleep issues, magnesium could be the missing piece of the puzzle that helps you get the restful sleep you need to feel your best.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in 300 of your body’s most important processes. These relate to everything from brain function and heart health to muscle and bone function, right down to the DNA in every cell of your body.
Just like sleep deprivation, magnesium deficiency is believed to be shockingly common. Only 2.5-15% are thought to have a frank deficiency — that is, a deficiency that falls below the clinical threshold for deficiency — but we know that the ill effects of deficiency start way before this point. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey say that a substantial proportion of UK adults are not getting enough magnesium in their diets, so there are potentially lots of people out there suffering from a deficiency that doesn’t quite meet the clinical standard — but is harming their health regardless.
Some of the potential health effects of magnesium deficiency include conditions like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, migraines, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), Alzheimer’s disease, and ADHD. Some of these can indirectly affect your sleep (e.g. anxiety), but as you’ll find out in this article, magnesium plays a very direct role in your sleep health, too.
How is magnesium good for sleep?
Yes, research suggests that magnesium may help you to sleep better in various ways. Magnesium can directly influence how easily you fall asleep, how long you stay asleep, and the quality of sleep you have. Indirectly, it can help with other problems that aren’t necessarily related to sleep but might interfere with you falling asleep or staying asleep, like pain. Let’s take a look at each one in more detail…
Natural sleep cycles
We all have a natural sleep-wake cycle, or a circadian rhythm, controlled by certain hormones and environmental cues. Magnesium is involved in this cycle in two key ways. First, magnesium helps the body clock to “keep time” and make sure this sleep-wake cycle runs on schedule. Second, it helps to create serotonin, which is then turned into the hormone melatonin. Rising steadily after sunset, melatonin is responsible for the sleepy feeling you get at bedtime. Without magnesium, there’s no melatonin, and without melatonin, there’s no sleep!
Sleep onset and quality
Of course, we know that feeling sleepy doesn’t necessarily make it easy to drift off. Magnesium is a key player in the various processes that help to send you off to sleep, explaining why magnesium deficiency is associated with insomnia.
First, magnesium helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This is your body’s restful, calm state, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system that kicks into gear when you’re stressed.
Next, magnesium binds to receptors for a neurotransmitter called GABA. When it comes to sleep, GABA quiets down activity throughout the body and brain, putting you in the perfect, relaxed state to drift off. In fact, lots of popular sleep medications work by targeting these very same receptors.
One particular type of magnesium supplement seems to do this especially well. Glycine, an amino acid found in magnesium glycinate, is known to calm the brain and improve sleep quality in insomniacs. People also say that it reduces mental fatigue and sluggishness the next day and helps them to feel more lively and clear-headed.
When you take magnesium and glycine together, the results are even better. Evidence shows that magnesium glycinate improves:
- Sleep time.
- Sleep onset latency, or how quickly you fall asleep.
- Sleep efficiency, or the proportion of your time in bed that you spend asleep.
Anxiety and stress
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic stress or other mood disorders, you know that they can really mess with your sleep patterns. The lack of sleep then makes you feel even worse the next day, making it even harder to get to sleep that night. And so the vicious cycle continues…
To understand how magnesium helps, let’s go back to melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. On the other side of the coin is cortisol. It’s known as the “stress hormone” because it’s high when you’re stressed, but it’s naturally there in smaller amounts throughout the day to keep you awake and alert.
Melatonin and cortisol directly oppose each other, so when one rises, the other drops. That means that if you’re stressed or anxious before bed, cortisol stays high and melatonin can’t do its thing. That’s why it’s so hard to sleep when you’ve had a stressful day. Magnesium helps to boost melatonin, as you know, but it also helps to lower cortisol by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the direct opposite of your “fight-or-flight” stress response.
Magnesium might also help by alleviating the cause of insomnia at the source Research shows that low magnesium is associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety, and that taking magnesium supplements:
- Improved symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Improved the effectiveness of some antidepressants.
- Worked as effectively as a common antidepressant to improve symptoms.
- Improved symptoms of anxiety, substance abuse, and addiction.
It goes without saying that supplements are not a replacement for professional mental health care. But if your mood is getting in the way of a good night’s sleep, magnesium supplements may be an additional option to support your overall well-being.
Magnesium may help sleep indirectly by relaxing the muscles. It’s also an electrolyte, so it’s an important part of the communication between your nerves and muscles. When your nerves send electrical signals to your muscles, they contract, and then magnesium helps them to relax again.
Relaxation is obviously helpful to everyone when it comes to falling asleep, but if you suffer from certain muscular conditions, it may be especially relevant to you. Nocturnal leg cramps, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and fibromyalgia can all keep you up at night, having a knock-on effect on your physical and mental health.
These conditions are complicated and we don’t really know for sure what causes them. That means treatment options are limited, but lots of people report success with magnesium supplements.
Magnesium malate in particular has some evidence supporting its use in fibromyalgia. One study significantly improved pain in people with fibromyalgia. In another, patients reported that it not only improved their muscle pain, it also reduced the number of tender spots around the body.
Magnesium chloride is another research-backed option that has been shown to reduce muscle pain in conditions like fibromyalgia. One case report even gave one 10-year-old boy complete relief from chronic muscle pain that hadn’t responded to any other treatments.
P.S. You can learn more about this topic here in our latest article Magnesium and leg cramps: does it help?
What is the best magnesium for sleep?
For more about the benefits, check out the following articles:
- Benefits of magnesium glycinate (and side effects)
- Benefits of magnesium malate (and side effects)
- 12 evidence-based health benefits of magnesium
When to take magnesium for sleep?
The best time to take magnesium for sleep is 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime.
How much magnesium for sleep?
The recommended magnesium dosage and intake vary depending on your age and sex. The table below shows the adequate intake (AI) and recommended dietary allowance (RDA) from the National Institute of Health:
|Birth to 6 months||30 mg*||30 mg*|
|7–12 months||75 mg*||75 mg*|
|1–3 years||80 mg||80 mg|
|4–8 years||130 mg||130 mg|
|9–13 years||240 mg||240 mg|
|14–18 years||410 mg||360 mg|
|19–30 years||400 mg||310 mg|
|31–50 years||420 mg||320 mg|
|51+ years||420 mg||320 mg|
*Adequate Intake (AI)
Are magnesium supplements safe?
Yes, magnesium supplements are safe for most people.
Exceeding the upper dosage is not necessarily dangerous for healthy people as the threshold for magnesium toxicity, or poisoning is very high. However, taking more than this increases your risk for side effects like nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
You should know that magnesium supplements can interact with some medications and change how they work. These include some antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications, muscle relaxers, and pain medications. So if you’re thinking about taking magnesium for sleep, mood, or pain, it’s important to talk to your doctor first if you’re also taking medications for these conditions.
Some medical conditions can also affect how magnesium is absorbed and used in your body. For example, kidney disease can make it hard to get rid of excess magnesium in your urine, putting you at risk of dangerously high magnesium levels. If you have a medical condition and you want to take magnesium supplements, again it’s best to run it by your doctor to be on the safe side.