Magnesium Improves Sleep

Old Man Asleep By A Fire, Rembrandt, 1629

Back in 2011, I reviewed some studies on the effect of magnesium on sleep. I’ve been revisiting them and some others. In a nutshell … magnesium improves sleep, whether taken as a supplement or provided in adequate amounts in food.

This article was from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Human Nutrition Research Center. But it’s now gone as of May this year. I found it here, so I’ll reprint it for safe-keeping. The author, Dr. Nielsen, is a prolific researcher. Here is his publication page.

Do You Have Trouble Sleeping? More Magnesium Might Help, Forrest H. Nielsen PhD

Can’t sleep? You are not alone. Not being able to sleep, or insomnia, is a common complaint, especially among people older than 50. More than half of all people aged 65 years and older have sleep problems.

Not surprisingly, lack of sleep is caused mainly by factors that are more common later in life, such as breathing problems, illness and medications. Yet, scientists have proved that poor sleep is not a natural part of aging.

Five common complaints are trouble falling asleep, waking up, awaking too early, needing to nap and not feeling rested.

Lack of sleep is a health concern because it can cause attention and memory problems, depressed mood and body chemistry changes that foster heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

A factor getting more attention recently is poor nutrition. A low intake of the mineral magnesium may be one nutritional factor causing sleep problems.

Magnesium plays a key role in the body’s chemistry that regulates sleep. This may be why persons with long-term lack of sleep, or abnormal brain waves during deep sleep, often have low magnesium in their blood.

Some small studies with humans and rats also suggest that magnesium is needed for good sleep. Magnesium treatment increased deep sleep and improved brain waves during sleep in 12 elderly subjects. Magnesium treatment decreased time to fall asleep and improved sleep quality of 11 alcoholic patients who often have a low magnesium status. Magnesium deficiency increased time awake at the expense of deep sleep in rats. Feeding magnesium to the rats restored their sleep patterns to normal.

The diets of many people do not contain enough magnesium for good health and sleep. In 1997, the United States Food and Nutrition Board set the recommended dietary allowance (or daily intake) for magnesium at 320 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men between ages 51 and 70.

A national food consumption survey found that many Americans, especially older women, consume less than the recommended amount for magnesium. Another risk factor for low magnesium status in older women is the use of calcium supplements without magnesium for bone health. High calcium intakes can make magnesium deficiency worse.

Perhaps, you have heard or read of the folk remedy of drinking a glass of warm milk before going to bed if you have trouble with falling asleep. This remedy may work for some people because milk is a fair source for magnesium. A glass of milk provides about 30 milligrams of magnesium. This amount of magnesium could be the difference between a deficient and adequate magnesium status for many people.

Other foods that have good amounts of magnesium are whole grains, nuts and green leafy vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of magnesium because the green color is chlorophyll, a chemical that contains magnesium and converts sunlight into food energy.

(From the Human Nutrition Research Center of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture).

If you want to try this and you go the supplement route, it’s a good idea to take calcium and magnesium in a 2-to-1 ratio, that is, take about double the calcium as you do magnesium. (I’ve changed my mind about this.)

Magnesium RDA:

Calcium RDA:

1 thought on “Magnesium Improves Sleep

  1. Bix Post author

    Another consideration … any magnesium you take in supplement form that doesn’t get absorbed will end up in the colon where it will draw fluid into the colon and cause diarrhea. That’s how it’s used to clean the colon for a colonoscopy, or for constipation. However, it’s not a pleasant experience. So, best to take small amounts with food several times a day than to take, say, a 400 mg pill in one shot.



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