Does magnesium help you sleep?

Woman sleeping
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does magnesium help you sleep? With billions of dollars spent every year on sleep aids and the best sleep apps, it’s a valid question as we search for a restful night that also helps our body recover. Sleep is vital for overall health, but many of us aren’t getting enough of it. Among a long list, work, family responsibilities, anxiety and stress play major roles in keeping us from getting the sleep we need. The question is, can the best magnesium supplement help us out or is this just hype?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the day and 35.2% report sleeping less than seven hours a night, the recommended amount for the average adult. Not getting enough sleep isn’t just a nuisance, it is associated with health problems, such as chronic diseases, mental illness, obesity and depression.

Many of us turn to sleep aids for help: whether that’s on prescription or from the ever-growing number of over-the-counter products available. Along with melatonin and diphenhydramine, magnesium has joined the ranks of natural sleep aids said to provide people with a restful night’s sleep. 

How effective is magnesium for sleep?

Magnesium is a mineral believed to be used for more than 300 functions of the body and plays an important role in bone structure. Your nervous system, muscle regulation, blood sugar levels, and more, all require magnesium to function. Magnesium rich foods include leafy green vegetables, legumes (peas and lentils), bananas, whole grains, avocados, nuts and dark chocolate. It is also in seeds, including sunflower and pumpkin.

A clinical trial of 46 elderly subjects (half of whom were given a placebo, the other half given 500 mg of magnesium for eight weeks) concluded that “supplementation of magnesium appears to improve subjective measures of insomnia”. The study, in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, suggested that those given magnesium during the trial period saw improvements in “sleep efficiency, sleep time and early morning awakening”.

A range of foods rich in magnesium

(Image credit: Getty Images)

So, it may be tempting to search out the best magnesium supplements. However, there is still debate around their efficacy as sleep aids. While a small study supports it, another review of three randomized clinical trials had a different conclusion. A review in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies compared oral magnesium to placebo in 151 older adults in three countries. The researchers concluded that evidence was “substandard for physicians to make well-informed recommendations on usage of oral magnesium for older adults with insomnia.”

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California, who practises pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, says: “The big question I always get is, ‘Is magnesium safe for sleep?' The short answer is, in essence, yes.” 

Dr Raj Dasgupta
Dr. Raj Dasgupta, MD, FACP, FCCP, FAASM

Dr. Raj Dasgupta is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at Michigan State University, Pulmonary/Critical Care fellowship at Columbia University, Saint Lukes & Roosevelt Hospital and Sleep Medicine fellowship at Henry Ford Hospital. He is quadruple board certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine.

However, Dasgupta adds: “There’s a but…in this case the ‘but’ is called the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), according to the National Institute of Health. They have recommendations specifically for dietary supplements, and magnesium is a dietary supplement. It clearly states 300 mg to 420 mg daily,” he says.

Those who stay within that range shouldn’t get unwanted side effects, according to Dasgupta. But what are those side effects? 

“Diarrhea is one of the possibles, when you consider that milk of magnesia, used as a laxative, has lots of magnesium,” he says.

Heart problems, such as arrhythmia or irregular heartbeats, can also occur for those taking excessive amounts of magnesium. “The bottom line for most people is that if you’re talking about taking magnesium once in a while you’re probably going to be fine, but if you’re having a chronically hard time falling asleep, and the key word here is ‘chronically’, you have to check with your doctor,” says Dasgupta.

He also notes that most people don’t have to turn to magnesium “unless you really have a diagnosed deficiency because magnesium is easy to get from your diet and the best form of magnesium is in your diet naturally.” Almonds, spinach, soya milk, eggs and avocados are examples of foods in which magnesium can be found, according to Dasgupta. 

Diane DePew, an associate clinical professor in the graduate nursing division at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, also says that magnesium isn’t like a sleeping pill that will induce sleep. “What it does is relaxes muscles because magnesium is needed for muscle contraction,” she says.

Diane DePew, PhD, BSN, RN-BC, CNE

Diane D. DePew, PhD, is an associate clinical professor in the Graduate Nursing Division at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions. She is board-certified in nursing professional development, and a certified nurse educator by the National League of Nursing. Her clinical areas have included medical-surgical, oncology, critical care and open-heart recovery. While at the bedside, she was a certified critical-care registered nurse.

“If you think of Epsom salt baths – which is relaxing for muscles – well, this salt is magnesium – so it’s the same concept.”

DePew adds that she wouldn’t initially suggest magnesium for someone complaining of problems falling to sleep at night. “My first step would be to talk about regular sleep hygiene,” says DePew.

What is proper sleep hygiene?

According to DePew, getting up at the same time every day, going to sleep at the same time, and turning off the television, electronics and phone is all good sleep hygiene.  It is also wise to try and limit naps during the day to no longer than 30 minutes and to have less caffeine and alcohol.

More research is required to determine the effectiveness of magnesium as a sleep aid for most adults. However, one thing is clear: magnesium is available in the foods we eat. Eating nutritious meals containing healthy quantities of vegetables, nuts and legumes should be sufficient to give you all of your recommended daily allowances of magnesium. If you are still having trouble sleeping, consult a medical professional before taking any supplements.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

Nathaniel Lee

Nathaniel Lee is a writer, journalist, author and podcaster from Philadelphia, with over 15 years of experience. His work has been published in The Philadelphia Sunday Sun, The Scoop USA, The Public Record, The Westside Weekly, The Metro, The Philadelphia Tribune, The University City Review, The Philadelphia Free Press, and the Southwest Globe Times