Magnesium For Sleep: Does it really help you get more shuteye?
Magnesium is one extremely important mineral for the human body. It is one of the most abundant electrolyte in humans, along with calcium, sodium, phosphorous, chloride, and potassium.
Magnesium is an essential dietary nutrient. If you don’t consume this micronutrient on a regular basis, a lot of your vital bodily functions will slow down and eventually stop.
When people talk about the seriousness of a magnesium deficiency, they aren’t being dramatic!
Magnesium is directly involved in over 300 different chemical reactions in the body.
That’s right – 300. Some of them are extremely important for your day-to-day health and performance. For example, magnesium is either directly responsible or necessary for:
- Heart rate control
- Blood pressure regulation
- Immune system function
- Testosterone synthesis
- Protein synthesis
- Melatonin production
- Blood sugar regulation
- Controlling muscle contractions
- Nerve excitation control
We could go on and on listing the things that magnesium does in the human body.
When we say it is an essential micronutrient, we mean it!
But lately there has been a spike in the number of people using magnesium supplements. Sales of standalone magnesium supplements have risen. So too have sales of products which contain magnesium.
Surprisingly, it seems that there is one particular reason why so many people are turning to magnesium supplements – sleep.
Magnesium is quickly becoming one of the leading natural sleep aids in the world. It is being used in more and more pre-made sleep stacks, and it is often listed as one of the best supplements to use by itself if you are struggling to sleep at night.
Does magnesium really deserve to be held up as such an amazing sleep enhancer?
How does it promote better sleeping patterns exactly? What does it do? What can’t it do?
Let’s take a look at what the science has to say and find out!
In the article below, we’ll go through the various ways that magnesium can help you get a better night’s sleep. We’ll tell you how it can and can’t help, and how it does it. We’ll discuss any side effect or health concerns associated with magnesium use, as well as the best ways to utilize it to promote sleep.
At the end, we’ll give you some substances that we think work best alongside magnesium for promoting deep, restful, undisturbed sleep.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section at the end!
How does Magnesium help you sleep?
Magnesium enhances sleep in a number of different ways. This is why magnesium is such a useful sleep aid – it works via multiple different pathways, so it is highly likely to help you regardless of the exact cause of your sleeping problems.
Some of these mechanisms are much more powerful than others.
We’ll now go through the main ways that magnesium helps you sleep. We will try to go through each mechanism in order of importance (although this is up for debate).
The main way that magnesium helps you sleep is by reducing nerve excitability.
Basically, magnesium is a key regulator of ion channel communications.
In more simple terms, one of magnesium’s functions is to regulate the passing of chemical signals between your neurons.
For some neurotransmitters, magnesium acts as an antagonist, decreasing receptor activity.
For others, magnesium is an agonist, effectively increasing the way that neurotransmitter affects the body.
Magnesium is an agonist of GABA. GABA is the principle inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system (CNS). We know that suppressing the CNS will leave you feeling more relaxed, less tense, and significantly less anxious. Increasing magnesium levels in the body will increase GABA activity, thereby reducing anxiety and physical tension.
At the same time, magnesium is an antagonist of NMDA. In grossly simplified terms, magnesium blocks up your NMDA receptor. This drastically reduces excitability. Magnesium doesn’t ‘clog up’ the receptor completely; it simply prevents weak ion signals from ‘firing up’ the neuron – only strong signals will get through and ‘register’ with the neuron.
NMDA and GABA clearly play a key role in sleep regulation. Increased activity at NMDA receptors and low GABA receptor activity have both been linked to insomnia (particularly in older people).
Supplementing with magnesium has been found to reduce NDMA receptor excitability and promote GABA at the same time (source).
By reducing NMDA receptor excitability and enhancing GABA receptor activity, magnesium calms the mind, soothes the body, reduces muscle twitching, and helps you drift off to sleep much more easily. The fact that it reduces nerve excitability means that magnesium may also promote longer, deeper, more restful sleep.
Reducing Hear Rate/Preventing Muscle Spasms
Another way that magnesium can enhance sleep is through slowing down your heart rate and preventing muscle spasms. These two effects are really one and the same.
Let us explain.
Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle function throughout the body. It does this with calcium; the flux of calcium and magnesium into and out of your muscle cells is what governs contractions. This applies to the heart as well – it is just a muscle after all!
When calcium enters your heart’s muscle cells, it causes your muscle fibres to contract. Then calcium leaves the cells and is replaced by magnesium, which causes your heart muscle cells to relax. Calcium and magnesium displace one another to cause muscle contraction and relaxation. Together, they govern your heartbeat.
Magnesium is also required for the proper functioning of the sodium-phosphorous pump; an enzyme which produces electrical impulses (source). These electrical impulses can adversely affect your heartbeat. It is vital for both sleep and for health that this enzyme functions properly. – CONTENT BOX.
A lack of magnesium can lead to an over-stimulated heart. This means an elevated, excessively strong, or even erratic heartbeat.
Similarly, a lack of magnesium can lead to excessive or unwanted muscle contractions more generally.
Have you even been woken up in the night because of a muscle spasms or twitch?
Does muscle soreness or cramps ever make it hard for you to fall asleep?
A lack of magnesium is probably at least part of the problem!
Promotes Melatonin Production
There is some evidence that magnesium modulates melatonin production.
Melatonin is the hormone which governs your sleeping cycle. It is what makes you feel drowsy at night (and a little at about 3pm). High concentrations of melatonin put you in deep sleep, while lower concentrations allow you to enter light REM sleep. When melatonin levels bottom-out in the morning, you get a spike of cortisol and wake up.
Magnesium seems to be a vital mineral cofactor for the synthesis of melatonin (source).
This means that not having enough magnesium might leave you without enough melatonin to enter the deepest, most restful and restorative stages of sleep.
Of course, we only really have access to robust animal studies on this so far.
That’s why we have not paid much attention to this potentially crucial role of magnesium in sleep regulation.
How effective is Magnesium as a sleep aid?
We’ve gone over some of the main ways in which magnesium enhances sleep. But this can only tell us so much.
What it can’t tell us is how well magnesium works as a sleep aid in humans.
It doesn’t tell us what kind of difference magnesium can make to your sleeping patterns.
It’s now time to take a look at some of the clinical trials examining magnesium’s effects on sleep in humans. We wont go through all of them, or in much detail. Instead we’ll give you a brief overview of the main studies and their conclusions.
In this study, researchers gave 46 elderly people either 500mg of magnesium or placebo each night for 8 weeks. They measured various aspects of sleep quality via questionnaires both at baseline and at the end of the 8 weeks. Here is what they found:
No significant differences were observed in assessed variables between the two groups at the baseline. As compared to the placebo group, in the experimental group, dietary magnesium supplementation brought about statistically significant increases in sleep time, sleep efficiency, concentration of serum renin, and melatonin, and also resulted in significant decrease of ISI score, sleep onset latency and serum cortisol concentration. Supplementation also resulted in marginally between-group significant reduction in early morning awakening and serum magnesium concentration.
Another study, published in a 2002 edition of Pharmacopsychiatry, looked specifically at how magnesium might affect sleep by influencing the GABA and NMDA systems. These researchers noted that magnesium is a known NMDA antagonist and GABA agonist, and they assumed that magnesium supplementation would therefore promote sleep. They found that magnesium supplementation increased slow wave sleep, decreased cortisol, and promoted deeper sleep (source).
What really fascinated us about this study was that the researchers found a marked decrease in the neuroendocrine changes which occur during the night – changes which are associated with the ageing process.
So magnesium might promote healthier, more restorative sleep in a way that directly prevents or slows down the ageing process!
These findings have been replicated in dozens of other studies. These clinical trials have used very different populations and testing criteria.
In this clinical trial, researchers took people aged between 51 and 85 years old who were struggling with poor quality sleep in some way. They found that magnesium status was clearly associated with sleep quality – higher magnesium levels meant better sleep quality, and lower levels meant worse quality sleep.
Another study – published in 2016 – found that magnesium intake reduced anxiety and stress in a diverse population. The researchers suggested that the reductions in anxiety seen in participants would reduce irritability, enhance cognitive performance, and maximize sleep quality (source).
We could go on listing study after study here, but we think this is enough to get you started.
If you’re interested in using magnesium to enhance your sleep, then we strongly recommend reading these studies and familiarizing yourself with magnesium’s mechanisms of action before you do.
Stacking Magnesium: How to get the most out of it
There are lots of natural sleep-enhancing substances out there. They all work in their own ways to reduce sleep latency, increase sleep duration, or facilitate deep, restorative sleep.
But what about substances that work well with magnesium specifically?
Which substances can you stack with magnesium to really make a difference to your sleeping patterns?
Here are the best substances to stack with magnesium for optimal sleep:
- Lemon balm
In particular, the cocktail of zinc, melatonin and magnesium has been found to be extremely effective for increasing sleep quality (source).
How to take Magnesium for optimal sleep
There is no one right way to take magnesium. The best way to ensure that your body has all the magnesium it needs to operate optimally is to make sure that you’re eating plenty of magnesium rich foods and that you’re taking a high quality multivitamin each day.
Make sure you’re using a multivitamin that contains a decent serving of highly bioavailable magnesium.
We recommend supplementing because magnesium is just so important for optimal health and performance. You can get enough from food, but very few people do. The magnesium intake of the average Western man or woman is woefully below what it should be. Correcting a deficiency can take time, and it requires large doses of magnesium.
Another reason to consider supplementing is the fact that consuming extra magnesium is not known to cause side effects or to pose any long-term health risks.
But what about for enhancing sleep?
How should you take magnesium to get the best night’s sleep possible?
For optimizing sleep, we recommend taking 100-200mg of high quality magnesium about 1 hour before going to bed.
The more bioavailable the magnesium you use, the less you need to use.
Ideally, you should try to take a supplement that combines a couple of different magnesium forms to optimize absorption and utilization.
Some of you will note that this is just 25% of your RDI.
For promoting sleep alone, you don’t need to take a great deal of magnesium. You should also be consuming the other 75% at least from food and from your multivitamin.
According to the research – and in our personal experience – 100mg of Magnesium Bisglycinate is more than enough to increase sleep quality and reduce sleep latency.
The best Magnesium supplements
The best magnesium supplements for us are those which provide a form of magnesium that is as close to nature as possible while still being potent and highly bio-available.
Most supplement manufacturers use a simple, basic form of magnesium that has been extracted from salts or other natural materials.
While this is a pure form of magnesium, it is not how the body normally encounters the mineral.
A small number of manufacturers have started combining different magnesium salts in their supplements. This means you are consuming magnesium in a form that is very similar to how it is found in nature.
One manufacturer – Performance Lab – have gone further. They have devised a unique production technique where minerals are grown on probiotic bacteria cultures in a lab.
This produces a nature-identical form of the mineral, but one that is actually more digestible and bio-available than normal.
Pure, basic magnesium is fine. It gets the job done.
But if you want to really ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck, we highly recommend checking out these enhanced forms of magnesium. They are closer to nature, and more powerful too.
Brian Johnson is a former academic researcher, psychologist, and tireless proponent of bio-hacking. Brian has dedicated all of his time since leaving academia and private practice to promoting the benefits to be obtained from the application of biotechnology and bio-hacking supplements. He has years of experience with nootropics, as well as prebiotics, probiotics, and other natural nutritional supplements. He has published scholarly research on natural nootropics; you can find his papers on his Google Scholar page.