Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. Shift work, late night television and various health problems such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can all contribute to inadequate rest. Sleep deprivation, in turn, can lead to health consequences such as obesity, depression, diabetes, hypertension, cancer or age-related macular degeneration (Touitou et al, Life Sciences, online Feb. 15, 2017). But sleeping pills carry many risks of their own. Can you use magnesium to get the sleep you need?
When Should You Use Magnesium?
Q. I listened to you talking on the podcast about the trouble with OTC sleeping pills. Why does no one mention magnesium as a sleep aid? I know it works because I can’t keep my eyes open when I take it, whether morning or night.
A. Some people are super sensitive to the sedative effects of magnesium. On August 20, 2001, we published this letter:
“Years ago I was visiting my sister who urged my husband and me to start taking magnesium with our vitamins. We took the first dose the morning we left for home.
“We usually split the driving. I drive in the evening, when I am most alert, and my husband drives in the daytime while I drowse. But that trip neither of us could keep our eyes open. We nearly pulled over into a rest stop to sleep, but we managed to get to our destination.
“I mentioned this to my sister, and she said, ‘Sleepiness is a side effect. We take magnesium at night.’ I’ve used it for insomnia ever since.”
Changes in the concentration of potassium, magnesium, calcium and hydrogen ions between brain cells are linked to sleep and wakefulness cycles (Ding et al, Science, Apr. 29, 2016). A magnesium supplement of 400 mg/day probably won’t change the amount of magnesium within cells (Wienecke and Nolden, MMW Fortschritte der Medizin, Dec. 2016). But it can reduce stress as measured by heart rate variability. According to the authors, this could help manage “restlessness, irritability, lack of concentration, sleep disorder or depression.”
How Much Magnesium Should You Take?
As we suggested above, some people are especially sensitive to the calming or sedative effects of this mineral. Others are particularly sensitive to its laxative effects. It won’t help your sleep if you need to leap out of bed in the middle of the night and race to the bathroom. A dose of 400 mg/day of magnesium will do that for some people. That is why it is important to find the right dose for you if you want to use magnesium.
Readers Weigh In:
Here is one reader’s question from 2013:
Q. What can you tell me about using magnesium as a sleep aid? I think I read about it in your newspaper column but could not find the information again. Do you have a guide you can send me?
A. Magnesium has been used to help control nighttime leg cramps that wake people up (Allen and Kirby, American Family Physician, Aug. 15, 2012). One small study in an Italian nursing home found that magnesium supplements together with melatonin and zinc at bedtime improved sleep quality (Rondanelli et al, Journal of the American Geriatric Society, Jan. 2011). The supplement contained 5 mg melatonin, 225 mg magnesium, and 11.25 mg zinc, mixed with 100 g of pear pulp. It was given one hour before bedtime.
To learn more about magnesium and other non-drug approaches to overcoming insomnia, you will find our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep helpful. Another reader reported this experience:
“I have suffered from episodes of insomnia for years and have tried many remedies without relief. A friend suggested magnesium (250 mg) at bedtime. Magnesium has helped my insomnia more than anything else I’ve ever tried. There are still occasional nights when I don’t sleep well, but they are few and far between.”