I often see patients who have questions surrounding nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals. Recently someone asked me about magnesium for sleep, since she had heard me talk on a podcast about the magnesium in banana tea. I thought I would share parts of our conversation with you:
I’ve seen many patients benefit from increasing their magnesium intake, through diet and supplements. It’s not uncommon for people, especially women, to have less-than-optimal magnesium levels. Because magnesium plays such a widespread, critical role in the body—it’s one of the 24 essential vitamins and minerals—low magnesium levels can throw many of the body’s functions off course, and raise risks for chronic health problems.
Healthy magnesium levels protect metabolic health, stabilize mood, keep stress in check, promote better sleep, and contribute to heart and bone health.
Few dietary elements have more influence over the body than magnesium. Let’s take a closer look at how maintaining magnesium levels can benefit your sleep, as well as your mental and physical well being.
Magnesium is an essential mineral, one of seven essential macro-minerals that the human body needs in large quantities. The body does not produce magnesium. The magnesium your body needs must come from outside sources. You receive magnesium through your diet. Magnesium-rich foods include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Seeds and nuts, including sunflower and sesame seeds, cashews and almonds
- Squash, broccoli, and other vegetables
- Dairy products
- Unprocessed whole grains
Magnesium deficiency is common among adults. Estimates suggest nearly half of adult men and women in the United States aren’t getting enough magnesium. Older adults are more vulnerable to magnesium deficiency. Women are also at higher risk for low magnesium, especially with age.
How does magnesium work?
Magnesium plays a widespread role in the human body, helping regulate and facilitate many essential functions. One of magnesium’s most important roles is as an enabler of healthy enzyme function. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 different enzyme-related reactions in the body’s cells.
In addition, magnesium:
- Plays a key role in energy production, activating ATP, the energy molecule that fuels your body’s cells
- Regulates transport of calcium, potassium, and other essential minerals, helping muscles and nerves function properly, and maintaining heart rhythm
- Regulates blood pressure, cholesterol production, and blood glucose levels
- Aids bone development and guards against bone loss
- Functions as an electrolyte, maintaining fluid balance in your body
- Helps control your body’s stress-response system and hormones that elevate or diminish stress
Benefits of magnesium
With such a broad, comprehensive role in the body’s functioning, it’s no surprise that the benefits of magnesium are widespread.
Here are some of the ways science indicates magnesium can protect your health:
Better sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels often leads to deeper, more sound sleep. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome.
Stress reduction and mood stabilization. Magnesium increases GABA, which encourages relaxation as well as sleep. Low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax. Magnesium also plays a key role in regulating the body’s stress-response system. Magnesium deficiency is associated with heightened stress and anxiety. Recent research indicates that magnesium deficiency can negatively affect gut health and is linked to anxiety behaviors.
Supplemental magnesium has been shown to have a stabilizing effect on mood. This essential mineral has been demonstrated effective in relieving symptoms of both mild-to-moderate anxiety and mild-to-moderate depression.
Bone health. Magnesium plays a critical role in bone formation, and in maintaining bone density. It helps the body effectively use the building blocks of strong bones, including the nutrients calcium and Vitamin D. The role of magnesium to bone health becomes increasingly clear with age. Higher magnesium intake is linked to greater bone density in older men and women. In postmenopausal women, magnesium has been shown to improve bone mass.
Cardiovascular health. One of magnesium’s most important jobs is to regulate muscle function throughout the body—and that includes the heart muscle. In the body, magnesium helps the heart maintain a healthy rhythm. It also helps regulate blood pressure and the production of cholesterol. High dietary magnesium intake is linked to significantly reduced mortality in people who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium deficiency is linked to unhealthful inflammation, and elevated inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, or CRP. Studies show adults who don’t get sufficient magnesium are more likely to have higher levels of CRP, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
In people with hypertension, supplemental magnesium can lower blood pressure, according to research. Magnesium is an effective blood-pressure reducer in healthy adults with high blood pressure, and in adults who have hypertension and diabetes.
In addition to blood pressure regulation, magnesium is used to treat other cardiovascular conditions, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- Mital valve prolapse
- Metabolic health. Magnesium has an important function in regulating blood sugar, and in metabolizing glucose in the body. Higher magnesium levels are associated with lower risk for type 2 diabetes. Low magnesium levels in the body are linked to insulin resistance. Among people with type 2 diabetes, 25-38 percent are also deficient in magnesium, according to research.
Research shows supplemental magnesium can improve insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes who have a magnesium deficiency. One study showed that in pre-diabetics without a magnesium deficiency, supplemental magnesium reduces blood glucose levels.
People whose magnesium intake is high have a lower risk for metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Relief from pain. Research indicates magnesium may help with pain problems in a number of health conditions:
- Supplemental magnesium may help reduce pain intensity and improve mobility for people with chronic lower back pain.
- Supplemental magnesium may improve pain and tender points (as well as depression) in people with fibromyalgia. Low magnesium appears to make fibromyalgia symptoms worse.
- Magnesium deficiency is linked to headaches. Research suggests that supplemental magnesium may help improve headache pain, including for migraines.
Help with PMS. Research indicates magnesium can reduce premenstrual symptoms, including mood swings, irritability, anxiety and tension, and bloating.
ADHD symptoms. Research indicates children with ADHD often have low magnesium levels, at significantly higher rates than children in the general population. Low magnesium in children has been linked to impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactive behavior. Studies suggest supplemental magnesium may reduce hyperactivity and improve cognitive functionin children with ADHD.
Athletic performance. Magnesium plays a major role in muscle health and energy production. What can it do for physical performance? Some research indicates supplemental magnesium can reduce the stress response to exertion and increase red blood cells and hemoglobin in athletes. In one study of triathletes, taking magnesium supplements was associated with faster start times in swimming, cycling, and running. In people who are sleep deprived, magnesium improves exercise tolerance, according to research.
What to Know
Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.
The following doses are based on amounts that have been investigated in scientific studies. In general, it is recommended that users begin with the lowest suggested dose, and gradually increase as needed.
For general health, sleep, stress: 100-350 mg daily. Individual dosing will vary, and can vary widely depending on an individual’s magnesium levels.
Possible side effects
Magnesium is generally well tolerated by healthy adults. Possible side effects include bloating, diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting.
Very large doses of magnesium can cause serious side effects, including: low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, mental confusion, changes to breathing, coma, and death.
The following people should consult with a physician before using a magnesium supplement:
- Women who are pregnant or breast feeding
- People with bleeding disorders
- People with heart block
- People with kidney problems
There are conditions that are associated with higher risks for magnesium deficiency, including alcoholism and diabetes. There are also conditions that may reduce the amount of magnesium the body absorbs, including:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Diabetes that is not well controlled
- Stomach infections
- Immune conditions
These are commonly used medications and supplements that have scientifically-identified interactions with magnesium. People who take these or any other medications and supplements should consult with a physician before beginning to use magnesium as a supplement.
- Anticoagulant medications
- Biphosphonates (medications that treat bone density)
- Digoxin, a medication that treats heart failure and atrial fibrillation
- Gabapentin, an anti-convulsant and anti-seizure medication
- Medications for diabetes
- Medications for high blood pressure
- Muscle relaxants
- Water pills
With other supplements
Boron. Boron supplements may slow the processing of magnesium in the body and may elevate blood magnesium levels.
Calcium. It’s often recommended that people take magnesium and calcium together.
Very high doses of calcium may reduce how much magnesium the body absorbs. People with significant risks for magnesium deficiency should talk with their doctor about doses for both supplements, and about the timing of taking these supplements.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D may increase the amount of magnesium the body absorbs. This is more likely when taking high doses of Vitamin D.
Zinc. In high doses, zinc may reduce the amount of magnesium the body absorbs. There is some evidence indicated that high levels of dietary zinc may elevate the loss of magnesium in postmenopausal women.
Herbs and supplements that work to reduce blood clotting, including:
- Panax ginseng
Magnesium is an essential, whole-health mineral, key to helping the body run well, both sleeping and waking. Paying attention to magnesium in your diet—and considering magnesium supplement to support healthy levels—are ways to ensure you get all this protective and therapeutic benefits magnesium offers.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM
The Sleep Doctor™