Does anything feel better than getting a good, solid night’s sleep? Possibly not, but sadly, many Americans struggle to fall or stay asleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that adults need seven or more house of sleep each night for overall health and wellbeing, but approximately 35% of all Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.
There are many supplements and products on the market that claim to support better sleep, and magnesium is increasingly being listed as a sleep aid.
Magnesium is a shiny, gray, solid chemical that’s also one of the minerals the human body needs to function optimally. Magnesium is important to a number of processes in the body, including regulating normal blood pressure, keeping bones strong, regulating blood sugar, building DNA, supporting brain health and ensuring a normal heart rhythm.
Does Magnesium Help You Sleep?
Magnesium might help you sleep better, but Carly Knowles, a pregnancy dietitian and doula based in Portland, Oregon, says it’s not entirely clear whether this is true because “research on magnesium and its effects on sleep is limited.”
What limited research is available, Knowles says, has suggested that “eating a diet rich in magnesium and/or supplementing with magnesium may help people fall asleep easier and faster, improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms that can interfere with a productive night’s sleep such as restless leg syndrome or muscle cramping.”
This is because “magnesium is thought to influence or effect our neurotransmitters associated with sleep and help us activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping you feel relaxed and calm,” she notes. In addition, magnesium is involved with melatonin regulation. Melatonin is another hormone that promotes sleepiness and influences the sleep-wake cycle.
Dr. Neal H. Patel, a family medicine specialist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, says that magnesium helps the body relax and can make it easier to fall sleep. It can also “help you sleep longer.”
Patel notes that magnesium can help decrease levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that stimulates the brain and keeps you awake and ready for action in stressful or scary situations. Lowering that response can help you fall asleep faster.
Magnesium works by helping the brain maintain adequate levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms and slows the brain down.
“Sleep quality tends to improve with those who have adequate levels of magnesium, and magnesium supplement use has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms” in some people, with women tending to have better symptom relief than men, he says.
Patel adds that magnesium supplementation is sometimes used to address insomnia in older adults.
Improving Your Sleep With and Without Magnesium
While taking a magnesium supplement is one approach to boosting your intake of this important nutrient, Knowles says there are a number of other things you can do and/or take to improve your sleep hygiene that don’t involve the expense or possible complications of a supplement.
First among these is consuming a whole foods diet that’s rich in magnesium. The recommended dietary allowance of magnesium for adults is 400 to 420 milligrams per day for men, and 310 to 320 milligrams per day for women, with pregnant women being advised to aim for 350 to 360 milligrams of magnesium daily.
However, Knowles says that nearly half of American adults (48%) aren’t meeting these recommendations and have a magnesium deficiency. This is mostly due to an eating regimen that under-delivers this nutrient and heavy use of pesticides in faming that can deplete soil of nutrients like magnesium.
In her work as a pregnancy dietitian, Knowles says many clients turn up looking for ways to quell “morning sickness, or pregnancy nausea, muscle cramping and other unwanted symptoms, many of which can be linked to a magnesium deficiency.”
She says it’s best to bridge the gap with food first. Foods that are high in magnesium include:
— Brazil nuts. One ounce of Brazil nuts contains 106 milligrams of magnesium.
— Cashews. One ounce of cashews contains 83 milligrams of magnesium.
— Brown rice. One cup of cooked brown rice contains 84 milligrams of magnesium.
— Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. One cup of spinach contains 24 milligrams of magnesium.
— Seaweed. Also called agar, 100 grams (about 3 ounces) of dried, edible seaweed contains a whopping 770 milligrams of magnesium.
— Sunflower seeds. One cup of dried sunflower seeds in their hulls contains about 150 milligrams of magnesium.
— Almonds. An ounce of almonds contains 80 milligrams of magnesium.
— Avocados. One medium-sized avocado contains about 60 milligrams of magnesium.
— Oatmeal. A half-cup of dry oats contains 138 milligrams of magnesium.
Other ways to improve your ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep longer include:
— Reducing daily stress.
— Reducing your intake of stimulants like caffeine.
— Reducing screen time and exposure to wakefulness-promoting blue light prior to bed.
— Keeping your blood sugar in balance with healthy meals and snacks.
— Minimizing eating right before bed, as that can cause indigestion.
— Exercising regularly and earlier in the day.
— Practicing mindfulness and meditation.
— Creating a relaxing sleep environment, including a cool, dark and quiet room.
— Drinking calming tea, such as chamomile or lavender, before bed.
— Using a calming pillow spray with lavender or other relaxing essential oils.
[Read: Foods High in Magnesium.]
Selecting a Magnesium Supplement
If you’re considering taking a magnesium supplement, Knowles recommends talking it over with your health care provider first. If your provider agrees that supplementation would be helpful, she advises using magnesium glycinate, because it’s a “more absorbable form of magnesium that’s less likely to cause gastrointestinal distress. However, if you’re constipated, another form called magnesium citrate might be beneficial since it increases transit time in the gut and can relieve constipation.”
Knowles adds that “alternative ways to use magnesium supplements include taking an Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, bath or doing an Epsom foot soak and using magnesium lotion or magnesium spray.”
Patel also recommends using magnesium glycinate and says women should take approximately 200 to 300 milligrams while men should aim for 300 to 400 milligrams at night about 30 minutes before you plan on going to sleep. “Avoid taking magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide, since they can cause diarrhea and are primarily used for constipation,” he says.
“Because magnesium is an over-the-counter supplement with relatively few side effects at the appropriate dosing, it’s worth trying if someone is struggling with insomnia,” he adds.
Magnesium can be helpful in alleviating cramping at night which can affect some people’s ability to get a good night’s rest. “There are theories that it may help alleviate restless leg syndrome by calming down the nervous system and playing a role in muscle relaxation,” Patel says.
But Patel cautions that if you’re struggling with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, “magnesium will not be effective and you should call your provider to get the appropriate treatment.”
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Best High-Magnesium Foods and Supplements for Sleep originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 08/30/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.