THE IMPORTANCE OF proper sleep is irrefutable.
Lack of sleep is a precursor to just about every health issue in the book—heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Yet nearly 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are currently a zillion sleep aids on the market, which contain everything from melatonin to CBD and even THC. Another lesser-known option is starting to pick up steam as a sleep aid: magnesium. But does this supplement really work? Below, the ins and outs of taking magnesium for sleep.
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What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a critical mineral that helps your body function. It plays a particularly important role in muscle function, nerve health, and energy production. The mineral creates biochemical reactions that also help with protein synthesis, bone development, immune system support, and blood pressure regulation, says Erin Kenney, R.D.N., of Nutrition Wired.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most Americans are not getting enough magnesium in their diets. The National Dietary Guidelines suggest adult men get between 410 and 420 mg a day, with the amount increasing with age. Even though only 52 percent of Americans are eating into the recommended range, severe magnesium deficiency, called hypomagnesemia, is rare.
Does magnesium affect sleep?
Truth is, we’re not entirely sure.
“It is thought that patients with magnesium deficiency may have neuroendocrine disregulation and disrupted sleep wave[s],” says Tyler Pitre, M.D., resident physician at McMaster University. “This can lead to an altered sleep architecture [and] increase nighttime wakefulness.”
In 2021, Pitre led a comprehensive data review surrounding magnesium supplementation in older adults suffering from insomnia. The review compiled evidence from several previous studies, and found that those who supplemented with magnesium slept longer than those supplemented with a placebo. But the findings weren’t significant enough to produce truly viable evidence that this is an effective option for insomnia problems.
So, the jury is still out. Until more research is done, the answer is this: it might help, or it might not. What we do know is that magnesium itself has some effect on muscle relaxation and nervous system control, which may also be a reason for its potential assistance in sleep.
Are magnesium supplements safe?
Even though the science isn’t fully conclusive on whether magnesium supplementation works for sleep, there are very few negatives to trying it. Pitre’s review notes that magnesium is cheap and widely available, and for that reason, they might not be a bad potential option for those looking for some sleep relief.
“Magnesium is very safe,” says Pitre. “Like anything, toxicity exists when you take above the recommended amount.”
Which foods are high in magnesium?
“Some foods that are rich in magnesium include leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard; nuts and seeds, including almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds,” Kenney says. Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, and legumes, like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils, are all rich in magnesium as well.
Should you take magnesium for sleep?
There are many different kinds of magnesium supplements that are used for different things, Kenney says. It’s important to get together with healthcare provider to ensure you’re taking the proper kind at the proper dose.
Side effects of these supplements are rare if you follow the guidance of a healthcare professional. Supplements sold over the counter come in approved dosages, and are unlikely to hurt if taken in accordance to the directions on the label. Magnesium can cause diarrhea in some patients, Pitre says; it is commonly used in OTC laxatives. So, needless to say, go for a low dose to start.
It’s important to note that magnesium supplements can interact with some antibiotics and other medications, so be sure to speak to a doctor about what other medications you’re taking before opting for a magnesium supplement. For example, those with kidney problems should be wary of trying it without a doctor’s supervision, says Pitre.
Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.