Magnesium is a mineral that contributes to more than 300 bodily processes, including regulation of the cardiovascular system, muscle building, neurological function, and bone growth.
While it’s found naturally in foods like leafy greens, dark chocolate, avocados, cashews, and tofu, the average American diet doesn’t contain an optimum amount of magnesium. In fact, conservative studies estimate that 15 percent of the general population has a significant magnesium deficiency, which can manifest as anxiety, muscle spasms, fatigue, and insomnia.
Types of Magnesium
There are several types of magnesium, some of which are more readily absorbed by the body than others. The most absorbable forms include citrate, glycinate, taurate, and aspartate, while the least absorbable forms are carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide.
Certain types of magnesium are more readily absorbed when they’re bound to an agent like malate, succinate, or fumarate; these forms will be labeled as “chelated magnesium.” You can even get the benefits of magnesium by using it topically, like soaking in a tub with Epsom salts or applying magnesium oil to the skin. Keep in mind that you also need enough vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium in your diet in order to optimize absorption of magnesium.
How does it help with sleep?
Because magnesium is essential to so many bodily processes, it makes sense that a magnesium deficiency could contribute to trouble sleeping. Studies have shown that magnesium increases production of the hormones renin and melatonin, which help regulate sleep. It also calms the nervous system, reducing anxiety and allowing the body to relax (which, obviously, is necessary for sleep).
It may even reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol, and we all know it’s easier to fall asleep when you’re not stressed. Magnesium needs to be a regular part of the diet in order to help with sleep--you can’t just pop the occasional vitamin before bed and expect it to knock you out.
How do I know if I need it?
Certain diseases, disorders, and medications make magnesium deficiency more likely. If you have one or more of these risk factors and are having trouble getting enough quality sleep each night, talk to your doctor about whether magnesium supplements might help. Here are some of the most common risk factors:
- Chronic stress
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Digestive issues like Crohn’s disease
- Alcohol dependency
Taking certain drugs, including:
- Acid blockers like Tagamet, Pepcid, and Zantac
- Antibiotics like Amoxil and Cipro
- Oral contraceptives containing levonorgstrel or ethinyl estradiol
The recommended daily intake is 310 to 320 milligrams for women and 400 to 420 milligrams for men, but the full amount should not come from supplements. Naturally occurring dietary magnesium is more readily absorbed, and a healthy, balanced diet includes other vitamins and minerals that contribute to absorption.
However, many people find it hard to eat enough magnesium-rich foods on a daily basis, so supplements are a good way to compensate. WebMD recommends no more than 350 milligrams of magnesium supplement per day for adults. While large amounts of food-based magnesium are safe, too much of a magnesium supplement can cause diarrhea and could even be toxic. If you have kidney disease or heart disease, check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements.