Magnesium for Sleep: How to Supplement for Better Zz’s
By: Mary Squillace
- Magnesium may promote better sleep by regulating melatonin, helping to activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, and activating the brain-calming GABA neurotransmitter.
- Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to insomnia and poor sleep.
- About half of Americans are short on magnesium. You can get magnesium through a number of whole foods, including leafy greens and avocado, as well as a daily supplement.
- Soaking in an Epsom salt bath may also be an effective way to reap the brain benefits of magnesium.
For many people, it takes more than a few sheep to guarantee a good night’s sleep. One alternative to those imaginary baa-ing balls of wool? Magnesium. Science suggests a magnesium deficiency could lead to restless nights — or even insomnia. Conversely, supplementing with magnesium has been associated with better sleep.
How does magnesium help with sleep?
For one, magnesium might promote better sleep by reducing stress. Research suggests that supplementing with magnesium has the potential to alleviate mild anxiety. A number of biological processes may underlie this mollifying effect. A 2016 study suggests that magnesium lessens stress by keeping the sympathetic nervous system (aka your fight-or-flight stress response) in check, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect.Other evidence indicates magnesium may calm your pre-bedtime racing mind, by regulating your brain’s GABA activation (GABA is the neurotransmitter that helps the brain relax).
Magnesium also helps control the sleep-wake-cycle-regulating hormone melatonin. One study that investigated the effects of magnesium on insomnia found that magnesium supplements improved subjective measures of insomnia, while also boosting melatonin levels, among a group of elderly subjects.
In addition, magnesium might be an especially effective ally against insomnia for people suffering from restless leg syndrome. Researchers have found a connection between magnesium and a reduction of mild- and moderate restless leg syndrome, as well as a reduction in restless-leg-related insomnia.
Where can you get magnesium — and how much do you need?
Magnesium is readily available in a variety of foods. Almonds and cashews are some of the most magnesium-dense foods around. Another good option: leafy greens, like spinach, which contain about 20 percent of your recommended intake per a half-cup (just be sure to cook them first to reduce oxalate levels). Avocados contain about 44 milligrams of magnesium per cup, while salmon, white rice, and carrots also contain a moderate amount of magnesium.
If you’re struggling to pile magnesium onto your plate — about half of Americans fail to get enough magnesium in their diets — consider taking a supplement. (Think you might be magnesium-deficient? Check the list of symptoms here.) The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 400 to 420 milligrams for men and 310 to 360 for women, and The Bulletproof Diet recommends taking as much as 600 to 800 milligrams a day. But don’t overdo it. Magnesium is the leading ingredient in several laxatives, so don’t be surprised if taking too much magnesium leads to stomach distress or diarrhea. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right magnesium supplement for you.
You might also be able to reap the snooze-enhancing benefits of magnesium by taking an Epsom salt bath before bed. A small study found that soaking in Epsom salts, which are a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate, elevated magnesium levels. This suggests magnesium can do its job by penetrating the skin. For optimal results, use a ratio of about 1 gram of Epsom salts per 100 liters of water (so about 600 grams of salt for a standard, 15-gallon tub) and bathe two to three times a week. Bonus: if you go the salt-bath route, you might be double-dipping in sleep benefits: There’s evidence that a warm bath or foot bath in the evening can help you rest easier.
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