I’ve detailed everything you need to know about using magnesium for sleep, including the best types, supplement brands, dosages, and how it works in the body to also improve constipation and reduce anxiety. It really is a wonder mineral!
I’ve suffered from low grade insomnia all my life. When I was too little to swallow pills, I remember my parents trying to give me drops of valerian root and catnip in hopes that I would finally calm down enough to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Needless to say, over the years, I’ve tried more natural sleep supplements than I can count, including the ever-prevalent melatonin, GABA, L-theanine, and yes, cat nip. While in my book, I write about how what you do before you get into bed—from the moment you start your day—is the biggest factor that ensures a hopeful or hopeless nights’ sleep, I have also found that in desperate times, there are a few sleep aids that really help me settle down.
One of my tried and true methods is using magnesium for sleep.
This mineral not only gets the nervous system to relax, but it can have a similar effect on all your muscles, which means it can also help with digestive issues (particularly constipation) and any acute aches and pains.
Though a restless mind is a big part of insomnia, so many other adjacent chronic conditions have a negative halo effect on sleep, especially dysregulated thyroid hormones, blood sugar levels, and digestive issues like IBS.
Since I know this applies to many people with SIBO and Hashimoto’s, magnesium is a multi-purpose triple threat in the natural sleep aid department. It’s also fairly user friendly and low stakes, so a great option to play around with on your own to see how it improves your health on all fronts.
Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover in this post:
- What is magnesium?
- The different types of magnesium and their benefits
- How does magnesium work as a sleep aid?
- The best magnesium supplement for sleep
- What is the best magnesium dosage for sleep?
- When time to take magnesium for sleep
- The 10 best magnesium-rich recipes
- The difference between magnesium and melatonin
What is magnesium?
Vitamins often get all the credit, but minerals like magnesium are equally important for fueling a variety of metabolic functions. We need magnesium to regulate our blood pressure, use our muscles, transmit messages through the nervous system and control our moods.
Because of these many responsibilities, magnesium deficiency can often be linked to a seemingly disparate list of disorders: everything from diabetes to heart disease to mental health issues.
A century ago, when we ate a mostly whole foods diet, these modern illnesses were much rarer. There are of course many factors at play, but one piece of the puzzle is not getting sufficient magnesium through leafy greens, legumes, whole grains (especially buckwheat), nuts and seeds.
Though I always say there is no supplementing your way out of a bad diet, magnesium is a fairly easy mineral to add to your daily routine and its commonly used for improving sleep, getting your gut moving, and easing anxiety and stress.
Different types of magnesium and their benefits
When it comes to magnesium supplements, there are a dozen or so forms of magnesium combined with different elements or acids. Some are easier for the gut to absorb and offer various benefits that skew more towards one use or another.
You’ll want to start by deciding on which type of magnesium formula to use, then choose a vehicle: powder that dissolves in water, salt for your bath, oil to rub on your body, or the traditional capsule or tablet.
Magnesium citrate, which combines the mineral with citric acid, is one of the most common magnesium formulations, and has been studied as a more bioavailable option than magnesium oxide, which is poorly absorbed by your digestive tract. Ironically, the latter is often used to treat acute constipation, but it isn’t a good option to raise magnesium levels in the body since it’s not well-absorbed.
Citrate, on the other hand, is a jack of all trades magnesium for treating a deficiency, aiding in relaxation and sleep, or for use as a mild laxative. Natural Calm is a popular powdered supplement that dissolves in water, which uses magnesium citrate as the base.
Magnesium glycinate, which combines the mineral with the amino acid glycine, is the most popular and well-researched combination for treating sleep disorders and helping to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. It is well absorbed in the gut, so can also improve motility and constipation symptoms when taking at night.
Amino acids are helpful for repairing proteins, and are generally beneficial for the gut, especially when you have damage to the tight junctions of the intestinal walls (leaky gut), which is common for people with IBS-related conditions. It is also a popular SIBO supplement. More on my favorite brand below.
Magnesium sulfate is more commonly referred to as Epsom salts and looks like a coarser version of table salt. It is usually used in bathwater to soothe sore muscles and promote relaxation. There is less evidence that this absorption method through the skin is powerful enough to combat a magnesium deficiency, so it’s best as a self care tool rather than a health supplement. You can buy big bags of Epsom salts at the pharmacy for use in the tub or get a more high-end salt combination with lavender essential oil and other calming scents. If you’re splurging, I like this soak from HigherDose.
Magnesium chloride is another chemical combination that forms a salt. You can find this form in tablet or capsule form as another well-absorbed multi-use supplement, or in topical applications. For those who don’t want to have sacks of salts in their bathroom, there are more space efficient magnesium sprays using magnesium chloride, and often a light carrier oil. These are great for using before a bath or sauna as a muscle relaxant, when your pores are open. But like sulfate there’s not much concrete information for using this as a supplement to raise magnesium levels if you’re deficient. HigherDose also makes a good one, or this brand is more widely available.
How does magnesium work as a sleep aid?
The main benefit of magnesium is as a mild muscle relaxant. This helps activate a bowel movement by allowing your digestive system to stop constricting, and is especially useful for motility overnight.
Magnesium works in a similar capacity for sleep, allowing your body and brain to relax. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which also helps with anxiety and stress, which is often a consequence of getting stuck in fight or flight mode.
The best magnesium supplement for sleep
While I used to love Natural Calm before bed, having a powder that dissolves in water sometimes had the unintended consequence of disrupting my sleep by making me have to get up to pee in the middle of the night! If you have a big bladder and your issue is falling, not staying asleep, this is a good and popular option. It comes in many flavors, though if you don’t mind the tartness of the citric acid, the healthiest option is always unflavored.
I’ve since switched to taking magnesium in capsule form, and my preferred brand is Healthy Gut’s Mag-HP. Their products are always formulated with gut health in mind (they also make one of the best digestive enzyme supplements). My code PHOEBE gets you $15 off all their products.
The formula includes 360 mg of magnesium along with 1,440mg of glycine (about a 1:2 ratio). This form of magnesium (chelated magnesium glycinate) is gentle on the gut and won’t cause upset stomach, loose stools, or lower stomach acid like some other forms can. It also contains ZERO fillers or additives, so you don’t have to worry about a negative reaction.
Per the bladder issue above, I also like that the pills include stronger doses per serving than most brands so I don’t have to swallow too many tablets before bed.
In 3 separate human studies, 3,000mg of glycine was shown to help you get into deep sleep more quickly, feel less drowsy the next day and feel more refreshed in the AM.
I have personally found it very effective on nights when my brain is wound up and I’m worried about having too many things on my to-do list tormenting me before bed. I take it about an hour before and it has a similar effect to reading a book, gently winding my mind back down and making me drowsy.
What is the best magnesium dosage for sleep?
When considering magnesium dosages, you always want to consider your goals.
For use as an everyday sleep aid or for motility, around 300-360 milligrams before bed is an ideal maintenance dose. I usually take two pills of Mag-HP, which is 360 milligrams.
For serious constipation that’s not alleviated by the above dose, you can try doubling to 600-720 milligrams with dinner or at nighttime. Magnesium glycinate is not a traditional laxative or stool softener, so its effects are usually gentle even in larger doses. But every individual will need to find their sweet spot.
If you have a magnesium deficiency or stress disorder, talk to your doctor about the right therapeutic dosage and how to space your tablets out throughout the day.
What time to take magnesium for sleep
Taking magnesium at night before bed is the ideal time to get your body ready for sleep, encourage your bowels to get moving overnight, and put a pin in that nighttime anxiety.
Some people take it with dinner. I personally find that an hour before bed is my sweet spot.
The 10 best magnesium-rich recipes
As I mentioned above, foods that are high in magnesium include leafy greens, legumes, whole grains (especially buckwheat), avocados, bananas, nuts and seeds. Here are some recipes from the Feed Me Phoebe archive that fit the bill and can be part of your on-going magnesium supplementation!
- Banana Bread Steel Cut Oatmeal
- Cleansing Green Kitchari Recipe
- Baked BBQ Salmon with Lentils and Collards
- Creamy Steel Cut Overnight Oats with Tahini
- Salmon and Quinoa Bowls with Tahini and Kale
- Smoky Spinach-Avocado Turkey Burgers
- Spanish Quinoa Pilaf with Kidney Beans
- Moroccan Red Lentil Soup with Chard
- Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Black Beans and Spinach
- Red Lentil and Quinoa Burger
The difference between magnesium and melatonin
Magnesium and melatonin are two totally different approaches to sleep aids. Melatonin is a hormone, so it’s best used at the same time every day and to begin with a low dose and slowly ramp up. This is not how most people use it, mind you. But it is how it is most effectively applied to the body.
Magnesium is a much more user-friendly option to start with and you have the added benefit of improving your digestion and mental health, two things that can often disturb sleep cycles. In many ways, it is a more holistic approach than melatonin and you don’t risk throwing off your other hormones in the process.
Neither of these sleep supplements are going to knock you out like an ambien or Nyquil. For something that’s more fast acting and powerful, but still natural, you can look into other compound formulas.
If you’re curious about other natural sleep aids besides magnesium, I have given a thorough write up of different over the counter options in my other post.
Any more questions about magnesium for sleep? Ask away in the comments sections! And if you try Mag-HP make sure to use code PHOEBE for $15 off.