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How Magnesium Supports Your Sleep

Woman relaxing in bed after taking magnesium for sleep

When it comes to sleep, or our lack thereof, we’ll try just about anything to get more, and to get better: blackout curtains, white noise machines, silk eye pillows, you name it. And while all of that is fine and good, your restlessness could be remedied by simply upping your intake of a certain mineral—magnesium. 

What is magnesium? 

Magnesium is one of the seven essential macrominerals that your body needs in large quantities to function properly. “Magnesium is vital as it’s involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including our heart rate, immune system, blood sugars, nerve and muscle function, DNA repair, energy and protein metabolism, and more,” says Bindiyah Gandhi, Medical Director of Revive Atlanta MD. 

So how does magnesium help with sleep? 

It maintains healthy levels of something called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), “a neurotransmitter that promotes deep, restorative sleep,” says Michael J. Breus, a Clinical Psychologist and Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. GABA is also responsible for your ability to relax (which is why magnesium has been found to help stabilize your mood and keep stress at bay).  And if it’s anxiety keeping you awake at night, magnesium deficiency could be to blame there too as this study found that a lack of magnesium led to “anxiety-like behavior.”

How do I know if I’m deficient? 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of magnesium for women over the age of 30 is 320 mg a day and estimates suggest that almost half of Americans aren’t getting that amount. (For perspective, 23 almonds contains about 80 mg of magnesium.) While you can get your magnesium levels tested, the results are not always accurate as the majority of the magnesium found in the body is stored in your bones and soft tissue with less than 1% of it found in your blood. But there are other indicators of magnesium deficiency like “muscle cramps, twitching, vague body aches, brain fog, or even forgetfulness,” explains Gandhi. She also notes that another sign can be craving magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and chocolate. Which leads us to the next question…

How can I get more magnesium? 

The best way to fill up your magnesium cup is through diet and transdermal application (like mineral salt baths), says Ghandi. Some of her favorite foods rich in the mineral are spinach, quinoa, salmon, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate. Check here for a more extensive list. You’ll also want to limit your intake of coffee, soda, salt, sugar, and alcohol as these deplete your body of magnesium. 

When choosing a magnesium bath salt, look for one made with magnesium chloride, as it is most easily absorbed by the body. Another reason to consider a pre-bed bath? Research shows that warm baths also promote sleep—so combining one with magnesium doubles up on the snooze support.

Can I just take a supplement? 

While Ghandi prefers diet and transdermal application, she approves of supplements as long as they are glycinated magnesium or chelated magnesium (the safest, most effective kinds), and only if your doctor approves, of course. Her rule of thumb: “Start slow, around 100 milligrams, and work your way up.”