Can Magnesium Supplements Really Help You Sleep?
Magnesium is often touted as an antidote for poor sleep. But while some doctors say it’s okay to take it in supplement form for some sleep disruptions, such as those caused by restless legs syndrome, the evidence for its sleep-inducing benefits is thin.
Magnesium, an abundant mineral in the body, plays an important role in many bodily functions. It helps support immune health, blood sugar regulation, and nerve and muscle function. Some scientists suspect that magnesium deficiency may contribute to poor sleep by disrupting nerve signaling and altering levels of sleep-inducing hormones such as melatonin.
But most people have adequate levels of magnesium, because the mineral is easy to obtain if you follow a relatively healthy diet. It is found in a variety of plant and animal foods such as nuts, greens, seeds, beans, yogurt and fish. And although many people fall short of the federal government’s recommended daily intake, actual magnesium deficiencies are rare.
For years, studies have looked at whether mineral supplementation can improve sleep. Most studies are small or poorly designed, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. A systematic review published in April looked at three clinical trials that studied magnesium supplementation for insomnia in 151 older adults and concluded that they generally provided “low to very low-quality evidence.” .
In a study published in 2012, researchers recruited 46 older adults with chronic insomnia and divided them into two groups. One was prescribed to take 500 mg of magnesium daily for eight weeks, and the other was given a placebo. At the end of the study, the researchers found that compared to the placebo group, people taking magnesium were more likely to report improvements in “subjective” measures of insomnia, such as how quickly they fell asleep each night and how often they fell asleep. Reported to get up early in the morning. But those taking magnesium showed no difference in their total sleep time, the researchers reported.
In general, magnesium has minimal side effects, and taking low doses is unlikely to cause much harm. According to the Institute of Medicine, healthy adults can safely take up to 350 milligrams of supplemental magnesium daily. Anything at or below that level is unlikely to cause any adverse health effects. But at high doses, magnesium can cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, says Dr. Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Ohio. Colleen Lance said. Dr. Lance said that although the evidence is weak that magnesium can help with insomnia, that doesn’t necessarily discourage people from trying it.
“I tell patients that you can try it and see if it helps,” she said. “It can’t help, but it probably isn’t going to hurt.”
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One example where she recommends magnesium is for patients who have restless legs syndrome, a nervous system disorder that causes people to have irresistible urges to move their limbs, usually at night, which can lead to sleeplessness. can be highly disruptive. Dr. Lance said that magnesium could, in theory, make a difference because it helps nerves properly relay electrical signals, although the evidence for its benefits for restless legs is still limited and mixed, and it may not work for everyone.
At least one small 1998 study found that people who had this disorder experienced fewer sleep disruptions after taking magnesium. However, a more recent systematic review of studies concluded that it was “not clear” whether magnesium can reduce restless legs syndrome. More research is needed, but Dr. Lance said she tells RLS patients it might be worth trying it to see if it makes a difference. “We tell patients they can try some magnesium in the evening hours to see if it calms things down,” Dr. Lance said.
However, chronic insomnia is usually not something that can be cured with a pill. When Dr. Lance visits patients who complain of insomnia, she usually conducts an evaluation to find the root cause of their sleepless nights. Often, she finds that the patient may have trouble falling or staying asleep due to an unknown sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Many women have sleep problems associated with menopause. Some people can’t sleep soundly because their environment is too noisy – they may have a spouse who snores, for example, or a dog that barks at night. Others may be struggling to sleep because of anxiety related to the pandemic, their work, their finances or any other stressful situation in their lives.
One of the most effective treatments for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which helps people address the underlying behaviors that are disrupting their sleep. Treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, can help people with sleep apnea. Dr. Lance said medications, including supplements such as melatonin, may also be helpful in some cases, but a pill alone cannot cure insomnia.
“We see a lot of people who have some underlying problem and still look for a pill to sleep through the problem,” she said. “Whereas instead what we try to do is find and address the underlying problem.”
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