If you’ve struggled with insomnia or other sleeping problems, you’ve likely discovered that there’s a huge range of types of pills and supplements that are touted to help. Magnesium, which is a type of essential mineral, has recently received more focus for its potential to perhaps assist in improving sleep quality and quantity.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to magnesium, its role in the body, and whether it can play a role in addressing sleep problems.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is known as an essential mineral. In particular, it is an electrolyte. The majority of the body’s magnesium is housed in bone, and only very little is found in the blood.
Like other essential minerals, magnesium plays a vital role for the body. It is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions, and it empowers enzymes that serve to perform critical bodily functions. Examples of systems that depend on magnesium include the bones and teeth, muscles, the nervous system, the immune system, and heart function. Magnesium also is involved in how the body processes glucose and derives energy from different types of food.
Because of its wide-ranging role in these processes of the body, there is increasing interest in how managing proper levels of magnesium may help address issues like insomnia, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
What are the Main Sources of Magnesium?
Food and water are the main sources of magnesium. The amount of magnesium in water can depend significantly on the source, but it may be higher in certain types of bottled or mineral water.
Magnesium is also present in many different types of foods. Some of the foods with the highest concentrations of magnesium include:
- Vegetables, especially dark and green leafy vegetables.
- Fruits like bananas and avocados
- Nuts like almonds
- Many legumes and seeds
- Whole grains including brown rice
- Soy products
As a general tip, foods that are high in dietary fiber tend to also have higher levels of magnesium. It’s important to be aware that processing of foods (such as refining grains) can decrease magnesium content.
Magnesium can also be obtained through dietary supplements.
What is the Proper Daily Intake of Magnesium?
The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies creates what are known as Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for minerals like magnesium. For adult women, this is 310-320 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, and for adult males, it is 400-420 mg. Children have a lower RDA, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding generally have a higher RDA.
Do Magnesium Supplements Help With Sleep?
Because magnesium is directly involved in so many aspects of our health, it comes as no surprise that it can be related to sleep as well. Some early research has indicated that magnesium supplements may improve several measures of sleep in elderly people who have issues with insomnia.
Despite this research though, the use of magnesium supplements is generally not recommended. Instead, the optimal way to get enough magnesium is by making sure that enough is received through a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
There are two main reasons why it is generally preferred to get the necessary magnesium from your diet rather than supplements. First, magnesium works in concert and in balance with other essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a balanced diet tends to help make sure that you get the appropriate levels of all of these as opposed to only having high levels of magnesium. Second, high levels of magnesium intake rarely cause health issues except when it happens in very large doses through supplements.
What are the Side Effects from Magnesium Supplements?
In most cases, supplementation with magnesium does not cause significant side effects. In some cases, though, it may cause diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. In very rare cases, people can overdose if they take far too much magnesium. Overall, there is limited data about long-term use of magnesium supplements as a sleep aid, so it is hard to conclusively address the balance of benefits and risks.
Magnesium can also have some interactions with other types of medications including certain types of diuretics, bisphosphonates (used to treat osteoporosis), antibiotics, and proton pump inhibitors. For this reason, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor and/or a pharmacist about the medications that you take and any potential drug interactions if you decide to start taking magnesium supplements to help with sleep.
Should You Take Magnesium Supplements to Help With Sleep?
In general, no. For most people with sleep problems, taking magnesium supplements shouldn’t be the first step. Instead, improving your sleep hygiene (your sleep environment and habits around going to bed) can often be a better starting point for getting improved sleep. In addition, you can always talk with your doctor who can work with you to try to identify any underlying causes of sleeping challenges and can directly discuss the potential benefits and downsides of taking magnesium.