Does magnesium really promote a good sleep? The bitter truth!

March 29, 2018 at 1:25 PM

Magnesium is a mineral that is found in the human body and throughout nature. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and plays several vital body functions, such as neuronal, muscle and sleep regulation.


  1. Major functions of magnesium
  2. How much magnesium a day?
  3. How can magnesium help you sleep?
    1. It helps your brain and body relax
    2. It helps deal with anxiety and depression
  4. How to take magnesium for disturbed sleep?
    1. Magnesium supplements for sleep
  5. The takeaway

Around 99% of the magnesium in our bodies is within the bones, muscles, and soft tissue. The remaining 1 % is in your blood (1). 

Magnesium helps regulate over 300 biochemical reactions within the body as a coenzyme. Without magnesium our body would not be able to produce energy (ATP), our muscles would be in a permeant state of contraction, our body would not be able to adjust the level of cholesterol in the blood, and so on (1). 

These are just a few of the several essential functions of this mineral in our bodies. Another crucial role of magnesium is promoting sleep.

Here is a detailed evidence-based post on how magnesium may improve your sleep and fight insomnia or sleeplessness.  

Major functions of magnesium

Here are some of the significant roles of magnesium in our bodies (12):

  • It helps increase energy levels (ATP synthesis). 
  • It acts on GABA receptors in the brain to calm your nerves and anxiety. 
  • It improves quality of sleep 
  • It may be used as constipation remedy as it helps relax the digestive tract.
  • It soothes muscle aches and spasms thanks to its inhibiting effects on nerve This nutrient helps calm the nerves carrying signals through the body. This can benefit conditions like muscle aches and spasms. 
  • Magnesium ions help regulate the level of other molecules in the body like calcium, potassium, and sodium.
  • Magnesium and calcium work together to support a healthy heart.
  • It may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. 
  • Magnesium helps prevent osteoporosis.
The summary: Magnesium has lots of functions in the body. It may provide anxiety relief, improve sleep quality and ease migraine attacks. It is also a heart and bone-friendly mineral, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis.

How much magnesium a day?

Magnesium deficiency is a worldwide problem.

The RDI (required daily intake) for magnesium for different age groups is as follows (2):

  • Infants (birth to 6 months) - 30 mg/day
  • 7 to 12 months - 75 mg/day
  • 1 to 3 years - 80 mg/day
  • 4 to 8 years - 130 mg/day
  • 9 to 13 year - 240 mg/day
  • 14 to 18 years - 410 mg /day for men and 360 mg/day for women
  • 19 to 30 years - 400 mg/day for men and 310 mg/day for women
  • Adults (31 years and older) - 420 mg/day for men and 320 mg/day for women
  • Pregnant women - 350 to 360 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding women - 310–320 mg/day
The summary: The RDI for magnesium is between 30 to 420 mg a day depending on your age. Many people are magnesium deficient, so you should make sure you get enough magnesium by eating some magnesium-rich foods.

How can magnesium help you sleep?

Insomnia means the inability to sleep and it’s a silent killer. Disturbed sleep will make you irritable and anxious, which can lead to erratic and irresponsible behavior and several other health issues. There are many causes of insomnia like stress, tension, excitement, anxiety and also lack of vitamins and nutrients, including magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation in elder people because their nutritional intake and ability to absorb nutrients and vitamins decrease with age.

Here is how magnesium may improve the quality of sleep! 

It helps your brain and body relax

Magnesium supplements have been shown to promote the quality of sleep by affecting sleep duration and time it takes you to fall asleep.

Maintaining healthy levels of GABA is essential for quality sleep.

GABA is a neurotransmitter that is involved in sleep regulation by shortening the time to fall asleep. It also reduces stress and acts as a mood stabilizer (3).

Dr. Raj Dasgupta (the spokesperson of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine) noted that “Magnesium helps the body relax, which might lead to better sleep".  

A study published in the “Journal of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Biochemistry” stated that magnesium helps reduce the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, which might be the reason you cannot fall asleep at night. It also relaxes the muscles and makes you feel sleepy (5). 

A study published in the “Journal of American Geriatric Medicine” showed that taking supplements containing a mixture of zinc, magnesium, and melatonin may improve the sleep quality in patients staing at long-term care facilities (4).  

A study published in 2012 in the “Journal of Research in Medical Science” stated that magnesium supplementation might be a useful and low-risk strategy for reducing the symptoms of insomnia.

Magnesium not only improves sleep time and efficiency but - by lowering the cortisol levels in the body - it may also reduce the risk of early morning awakening and insomnia (6). 

It helps deal with anxiety and depression

Several studies show that magnesium may reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In a randomized and placebo-controlled study, 30 participants suffering from depression and low serum magnesium levels were given 500mg of magnesium oxide a day while the control group (n = 30) received a placebo.

The magnesium group had a significant reduction in the Beck Depression Inventory scores (15.65 ± 8.9) after 8 weeks, while the placebo group had a 10.40 ± 7.9 score.  

The magnesium serum levels were noticeably different in both groups.

Around 88.5% of participants from the treatment group returned to normal serum magnesium level while only 48.1% of the control group. This study concluded that intake of magnesium supplements (even less absorbable forms) could reduce symptoms of depression in people with hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency).

The less soluble forms of magnesium supplements are magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate, while highly soluble forms are magnesium chelate, aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride (7).

The summary: Magnesium improves sleep quality by calming your brain and nerves and also by reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How to take magnesium for disturbed sleep?

If you need to increase your magnesium intake, you have two options. The first one (which is preferable) is to eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods. 

Here is a list of some foods, which are naturally high in magnesium (8): 

  • Leafy greens: Leafy greens are one of the best sources of magnesium. One cup of spinach, Swiss chard, and kale contain 39%, 38% and 19% of the RDI for magnesium respectively.  
  • Dark chocolate: It’s healthy and delicious as well. 1 ounce of dark chocolate contains 64 mg of magnesium. This is equal to 16% of RDI.
  • Avocados: This fruit is with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. One medium avocado contains 58 mg of magnesium, which is equal to 15% of the RDI.
  • Nuts: Nuts are yummy and easy to eat even on the go. 1 ounce of cashews contains 82 mg of magnesium (20% of the RDI). 1 ounce of almonds and Brazil nuts provide 20% and 27% of the RDI for magnesium respectively. 
  • Legumes: A one cup serving of cooked black beans contains 120 mg of magnesium (30% of the RDI), which is impressive. One cup of white beans and french beans holds 28% and 25% of the RDI for magnesium respectively. 
  • Tofu: Tofu is a vital part of a vegetarian’s diet. It is high in protein and magnesium. 100 g of tofu provides 53 mg of magnesium (13% of the RDI).
  • Seeds: Many seeds, including flaxseeds, pumpkin and chia seeds are rich in magnesium. 1-oz of pumpkin seeds contain 150mg of magnesium (37% of the RDI). One ounce of flax seeds and chia seeds contain 28% and 25% of the RDI for magnesium respectively. 
  • Whole grains: Wheat, oats, quinoa, and barley are the principal members of the whole grain family. 1 cup of quinoa, barley, and oats contain 30%, 9% and 7% of the RDI for magnesium respectively. 
  • Fatty fish: Fish like salmon, mackerel, and halibut are a rich source of magnesium. Half a fillet (about 178 g) of salmon contains 53 mg of magnesium (13% of the RDI). 3 ounce fillet of mackerel contains 21% of the RDI for magnesium.

Eat plenty of the foods above to increase magnesium levels in your body and improve sleep quality.

Remember that getting magnesium from food is always better than taking supplements as your body absorbs minerals from food much easier than from supplements.

Magnesium supplements for sleep

Some studies show that taking 225 - 500 mg of magnesium supplements a day may also be a good option for you to fight insomnia.

You should only buy magnesium supplements, which also contain zinc and melatonin. These two minerals are also necessary for proper sleep.

Magnesium supplements are a great way to help your body relax, reduce cortisol levels (stress hormone) and promote sleep quality and duration. Plus, magnesium helps to stabilize mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.  

Magnesium supplements are available in various forms, including pills, powder, salts and oils. 

The most popular supplements are magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide and magnesium lactate.

The research shows that the best sleep promoting magnesium supplements are magnesium oxide and lactate (9). 

These supplements are taken orally (either as a pill or as a liquid solution made by dissolving some powdered magnesium supplement in a glass of water).

You may also try topical supplements (salts or oils), such as Epsom salt.

You just sprinkle them in the bathtub and enjoy a long soak or you can pour some into your foot bath. The magnesium can be absorbed through your skin.

On the flip site, you should not exceed a daily dose of 325 mg of magnesium in supplements due to the risk of diarrhea and other health issues.

The summary: You may increase your magnesium intake by eating magnesium rich foods or by taking supplements. Do not exceed 325 mg of magnesium a day to avoid diarrhea and other health risks. Epsom salt and magnesium oil bath may also help you sleep better.

The takeaway

Magnesium is a vital mineral, which has various functions in your body. 

It may help you sleep better, boost energy levels and reduce depression and anxiety.

Eating magnesium rich foods, such as leafy greens, dark chocolate, beans or nut will help you prevent magnesium deficiency, which is one of the possible causes of insomnia and sleep problems.

You may also try magnesium supplements, preferably magnesium oxide or lactate with zinc and melatonin.

However, do not expect miracles. 

While some studies show, that taking a magnesium supplement improves quality of sleep and helps fight insomnia, more research is needed to confirm the real efficacy of magnesium supplements in treatment of disturbed sleep.

So just make sure that you get enough magnesium from food and do not take any supplements without prior consent of your physician. 

You may also try some relaxation techniques, such as meditation or joga to deal with sleeplessness.

If you have sleep problems for a long time (e.g. more than 1 week), see a psychiatrist or a sleep doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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Written by: Muhammad Usman, M.D., B.Sc.
Education: Physician
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Published: March 29, 2018 at 1:25 PM
Next scheduled update: March 29, 2020 at 1:25 PM
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