Is Magnesium The Secret to Better Sleep?

Hint: if you’re sleep deprived, you need this mineral!

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

You’re tossing, you’re turning, you’re exhausted, you’re frustrated. And now, you’re Googling… how can I get some sleep?

You could also be looking into natural supplements or remedies for sleep support. Enter: magnesium. It’s touted as one of nature’s miracle minerals, for its purported ability to calm the mind and body, aid digestion, and support sleep. 

We’re going to dive into the pros and cons of magnesium, how it works, how to get more of it (if you need it!), and if it’s right for you.

Why Can’t I Fall Asleep?

“An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic, or ongoing, sleep disorders,” reports the National Institutes of Health. And that’s disorders… not even counting the millions of individuals who generally struggle to sleep now and then. 

Something that *should* be so natural and easeful can get thrown off by a myriad of things; many aspects of modern life disrupt our circadian rhythms (our natural sleep cycle, dictated by the rise and fall of specific hormones). Think: blue light from technology, being in an office all day and not getting natural sunlight, caffeine, working late, jetlag, inconsistent sleep and wake schedules, and more. There are so many (seemingly inconspicuous) things that can make it more and more difficult for us to fall — and stay — asleep, and it seems to compound over time. 

Pinpointing the source of your sleep struggle will be a personal journey, and come down to a bit of self-investigation and habit monitoring. With that being said, there are things you can do in the interim to help you get some shuteye immediately while targeting the root.

RELATED: 14-Day Better Sleep Challenge

How Does Magnesium Play a Role? 

Something that can be a root cause with an immediate solve is actually magnesium deficiency. A mind-blowing statistic — are you ready for it? — is that half of us (yes, 50%!) in the US don’t have enough magnesium in our bodies. In 2018, the American Osteopathic Association reported that “Up to 50 percent of the US population is magnesium deficient.”

What does that mean for our brains and bodies? Because magnesium regulates neurotransmitters, a magnesium deficiency can affect multiple systems in the body. This can show up as… 

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium may also increase the amount of melatonin in your body, so a lack of it, in theory, would not be ideal for drifting off when your head hits the pillow at night.

RELATED: Always Tired? Your Diet May Be Missing These Nutrients

Do Magnesium Supplements Work?

So if you’re deficient, it may be worth considering supplementation. There’s some evidence that indicates that the supplementation of magnesium improves insomnia. Though the research isn’t necessarily indisputably conclusive, the medical and scientific communities have agreed that it can’t hurt to try… magnesium is categorized by the US government as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.” 

Of course, for anything medically related — including supplements — it’s imperative that you confer with your physician before making adjustments based on assumed deficiencies. Even if it works for most, it doesn’t mean it works for everyone, so please be mindful of your unique physiology as you embark on this magnesium-infused journey. 

The Pros and Cons of Magnesium

This mineral is often touted as a panacea, but there can always be too much of a good thing! Part of your decision-making process for any supplement, diet, food, medication, etc., is knowing both the pros and cons so you can be completely informed. 

Let’s get the (potentially) bad out of the way, shall we? Fortunately, there’s nothing major out there, but definitely, a few things to keep in mind. 

Cautions to Consider

While a magnesium deficiency can lead to a backed-up digestive tract, too much magnesium can cause the inverse, including nausea, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Fortunately, this isn’t a concern when it comes to magnesium content in your food, but supplements are another story! Additionally, magnesium could be contraindicated with your own prescriptions. Just another reason to discuss all of this in detail with your doctor.

Benefits of Magnesium

As for the pros? There are numerous that are inferred from small bits of research — there are a smattering of studies across medical journals that have evidence supporting the following: 

  • Mental health support 
  • Stress relief
  • Sleep support
  • Digestive support
  • Cramp relief + exercise recovery
  • Migraine prevention
  • PMS relief
  • Heart health support
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits

How Do You Get More Magnesium?

While supplementation is simple and straightforward (and an effective way to get more, quickly when you’re struggling to sleep), you can also begin to incorporate more magnesium into your daily meals and snacks, simply by understanding which foods have higher levels of magnesium.

Magnesium-Rich Foods

Some popular food choices to increase your daily intake? Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, or nut-free, there are a ton of options for you to naturally include more magnesium in your diet.

  • Spinach
  • Almonds and cashews
  • Dark chocolate (this is believed to be why many individuals with PMS crave chocolate!)
  • Bananas
  • Pumpkin and chia seeds
  • Avocado
  • Peanut butter
  • Edamame and black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Halibut and salmon
  • Tempeh and tofu
  • Chickpeas

Imagine a PB-banana toast for breakfast (maybe with dark chocolate chips?!), or an avocado-chickpea hummus sprinkled with chia seeds, or a brown rice, salmon, and spinach dinner… There are a lot of delicious options to get more magnesium every day. 

Types of Magnesium

When it comes to magnesium supplements, you may see some of these names — they’re all forms of magnesium:

  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium oxide 
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Magnesium lactate
  • Magnesium malate
  • Magnesium taurate
  • Magnesium L-threonate
  • Magnesium sulfate
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Magnesium orotate

And if you see the words “magnesium chelate” or “chelated magnesium,” this is simply a preparation of the mineral that purportedly helps your body process it more efficiently and easily (this is known as bioavailability).

As you can imagine, with so many types of magnesium, not all supplements are created equal! It’s important to remember they all play various roles in the body. The more popular forms of ingested magnesium (in supplements) include magnesium citrate, glycinate, and carbonate. 

The popular CALM powdered magnesium drink mix is magnesium carbonate, while some antacids like Tums use magnesium oxide. You may see magnesium glycinate in pure form delivered via capsules. From soothing sore muscles, to benefiting digestion, to aiding sleep, different forms of magnesium may target different conditions or symptoms. If you’re attempting to treat a symptom through supplementation, talk to your doctor first!

Magnesium For Sleep Support 

Given that there are so many ways to eat your magnesium, you may not need a supplement at all. However, if you’re in a tough spot with sleep deprivation, it’s important to quickly correct, get as much sleep as you can, and then make adjustments to your diet and habits. Sleep deprivation is dangerous, not to mention miserable, so definitely chat with your doctor about a quick fix while you target your root issues. 

Last important reminder: insomnia is a clinical condition that is separate from a bout of sleeplessness now and then. If you believe you are struggling with chronic insomnia, please consider seeing a specialist before defaulting to a supplement.