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Nutrition

Does magnesium help you sleep better?

Long championed as a panacea for sleep, we investigate the science behind the mineral.

Laura Sugden
Lead Copywriter and Health Coach
February 25, 2021
4 min read

We get asked about magnesium quite a lot. It’s one of the more common supplements out there, but what exactly is it? And what is its famed relationship to sleep?

As a mineral, magnesium is essential to the functioning of your body and brain. It’s a vital catalyst for many enzymes, enabling over 300 regular reactions. At any one time, you’d expect there to be about 25g of magnesium in your body, but most of that is tied up in your bones. It also always comes from external sources—much like iron and calcium, magnesium is a metal, and your body can’t produce it.

Will magnesium make you sleep better?

Studies have shown magnesium to be beneficial when it comes to sleep.

How does magnesium help you sleep better? It plays a role in the process, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and helping regulate the production and release of melatonin—the hormone that guides sleep-wake cycles. 

It also helps maintain a healthy amount of GABA—a neurotransmitter that calms excitement in the central nervous system and aids relaxation.

Magnesium benefits

And there are other benefits beyond better sleep. It’s excellent for the health and structure of your bones, and there’s an established relationship between low levels of magnesium and depression and anxiety. It’s also essential for normal muscle and heart function. All in all, a good one to have around.

So should you take a magnesium supplement?

For magnesium, your first stop should always be your diet. Regular foods that have a lot of magnesium include:

  • Spinach

  • Wholemeal bread

  • Nuts

  • Pulses

But if you want a more comprehensive list, take a look here.

You can also get supplemental magnesium, either as a spray or gel, or as a pill. However, the NHS recommends between 270mg and 300mg a day, and it’s more than possible to get that from your diet. Given the safe upper limit is around 400mg, make sure that any supplements keep you below that level.

Side effects of taking too much include nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea (it’s a common ingredient in over-the-counter laxatives), and taking supplemental magnesium can also interfere with certain medications, like osteoporosis medicine, and some antibiotics.

What to keep an eye out for

Getting enough magnesium from your diet is essential to keeping your brain and body healthy. But things get a little murkier when you turn to supplements. 

First, you need to make sure that what you’re taking is effective. Magnesium comes in countless compounds, and you’ll absorb each at a different rate. For example, you’ll need to take significantly more magnesium oxide than magnesium sulphate. 

It can also affect the uptake of certain other nutrients, such as zinc, so it’s always important to check before taking magnesium with anything else.

Supplemental magnesium’s effect on sleep has also not been tested extensively. Magnesium in the diet has been shown to aid sleep, and supplements have been shown to help older individuals in this regard, but there’s not enough data when it comes to the rest of the population.

Will anything else help?

While magnesium in your diet is great for sleep, it’s only one part of the puzzle. Other nutrients can also affect melatonin production and regulation, as well as other factors in a deep sleep. These include various B vitamins (B1, B2, B6 and B12 in particular), as well as vitamins D and E.

There are also certain habits and behaviours you can implement to help yourself sleep better. Small things like reducing screen time before bed, maintaining a steady routine, and leaving a gap before eating and going to bed can all make a huge difference.

Want to learn to sleep better?

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