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How magnesium can help you sleep

By Amelia Willson | 3 Minute Read

When it comes to sleepless nights, people seek out all kinds of solutions, from behavioral lifestyle changes to sleeping pills. Since sleeping pills can be addictive, many opt for natural supplements instead.

One such supplement that’s making a name for itself its sleep-promoting qualities is magnesium. This common mineral not only helps you fall asleep in the first place, but it helps you enjoy deeper, more restful sleep as well.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral for that keeps you healthy. It’s involved in all sorts of bodily functioning, affecting the health of our bones, muscles, heart, and brain. In our bodies, magnesium primarily exists in our serum and red blood cells. It’s one of the most common minerals in Earth, and you’ll see it as an ingredient in many foods.

Magnesium has been touted for its ability to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality. How does magnesium work its magic on insomnia?

How magnesium helps you sleep

In order to sleep, your brain needs to feel tired and relaxed, so it naturally starts winding things down toward the end of the day, preparing for sleep. Magnesium helps push this process along through its interactions with your melatonin levels and nervous system.

Magnesium and melatonin

Magnesium regulates both neurotransmitters and melatonin. Neurotransmitters relay messages between your brain and your nervous system, and your melatonin levels control your sleep-wake cycles. Researchers have found that melatonin and magnesium levels correlate in the body. Those with depleted levels experience poorer sleep, and vice versa. Based on these findings, researchers concluded that, like melatonin, magnesium is tied to your circadian rhythms.

You’ve probably heard of taking melatonin for sleep before. This explains why magnesium can be another alternative.

Magnesium and the nervous system

Beyond its connection with melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle, magnesium also helps calm your nervous system by binding to GABA receptors. These neurotransmitters reduce nerve activity, calming your nervous system in preparation for sleep. Increasing your GABA levels promotes relaxation (in fact, this is sleeping pills like Zolpidem (Ambien) use them).

Because it has a calming effect on the nervous system, recent studies suggest magnesium may also help treat any underlying depression and anxiety that’s contributing to an individual’s insomnia.

Magnesium deficiency and sleep problems

Some people are prone to magnesium deficiency, including those with diabetes, alcohol addiction, GI diseases, ADHD, and older adults. These individuals especially can benefit from supplemental magnesium.

Without sufficient magnesium levels, your body is likely to experience disturbed sleep and insomnia. A study of mice who were kept on a magnesium-deficient diet experienced disturbed sleep with more frequent awakenings.

However, it is possible to have too much magnesium, as well. Whether you have too much or too little magnesium, you can expect sleep problems, according to a 2001 study. For good sleep, it’s important to find the right balance of magnesium.

Beyond helping you fall asleep initially, optimal magnesium levels also improve the quality of your sleep, according to two separate studies of older adults in 2011 and 2012. In both studies, the adults who took magnesium experienced better quality sleep than those who took a placebo.

Magnesium for sleep: What’s the right dosage?

The National Institute of Health recommends a daily dietary intake of 400-420 mg of magneisum for adult men and 310-360 mg for adult women. However, you can get much of that through water and foods that contain high amounts of magnesium (and promote good sleep to boot!), including:

  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Whole grains and unprocessed cereals
  • Green vegetables

Legumes, meat, fruit, and fish can also be a good source of magnesium, although they contain lesser amounts than the foods listed above.

How much magnesium can you take a day?

A daily dose of magnesium can help regulate your nervous system, minimizing the stress, irritability, and sleep problems associated with magnesium deficiency.

However, because you get so much magnesium from food, and there aren’t yet a wealth of studies on the effectiveness of magnesium for insomnia, there are no exact dosage guidelines for using it to treat insomnia. The Food and Nutrition Board suggests that supplemental magnesium levels not exceed 350 mg for males and females 9 years and older, 110 for children between 4 to 8, and 65 mg for 1 to 3 year olds.

To use magnesium as a sleep aid, take it about 1 to 2 hours before you’d like to fall asleep.

Are there side effects to using magnesium as a sleep aid?

As with any supplement, you may experience side effects from taking magnesium, such as nausea or diarrhea.

Prevent this discomfort by never taking magnesium on an empty stomach and always taking it with a full glass of water. You may also wish to check with your doctor first to ensure magnesium supplements will not interfere with any other medication you are taking for other health conditions.

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