Magnesium and sleep

I wanted to shine the spotlight on magnesium today. It’s a really important mineral and one that is ready for the taking in our diets. How can we make sure we eat enough magnesium though and is it a case of more is better? We’ll look at magnesium and sleep, but also it’s many other roles.

We have about 30g of magnesium in our body – most of this is in bones, followed by muscle and soft tissue with only 1% found in our fluids as an electrolyte where it helps to control fluid balance.

Are we eating enough magnesium?

Diet and nutrition survey data shows most women in their 40s and 50s eat enough. This is at a population level though, so it’s important to consider needs and intakes on an individual level.

Younger adults are doing worse on the magnesium front with around 20% of people in their 20s falling short.

What do we need magnesium for?

Its roles within the body include:

  • Hundreds of metabolic pathways, including releasing energy from our food.
  • Muscle contraction and blood clotting.
  • Nerve transmission.
  • Formation of strong bones and teeth
  • Immune function
  • Beating of heart muscle
  • Supporting psychological function

Although there are no official legal health claims that can be made around magnesium and sleep, it is frequently touted as a sleep aid because of its role in muscle relaxation. So, let’s look at this in more detail.

What does the research tell us about magnesium, diet and sleep?

Magnesium plays a role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the one associated with ‘resting and digesting’. This Includes supporting the regulation of melatonin which guides sleep/ wake cycles in body.

A recent systematic review looking at all the evidence in this area compiled results from 9 studies and over 7000 people.

Observational studies show a positive link between higher magnesium intakes and blood and urine levels of magnesium being associated with better sleep quality.

These sorts of studies can’t prove a causal link though, so let’s look to the gold standard randomised controlled trials for those answers…

One trial showed 500mg Magnesium supplementation increased sleep time and efficiency when compared to placebo. Other trials were a bit inconsistent and couldn’t show statistical significance.

Back in the real world, statistical significance might not mean much though, as within all studies there will be people right across the spectrum, some of whom find benefit and some who won’t.

There’s enough of a sniff here I think, to consider magnesium supplementation alongside a broader nutritional and holistic approach. For some, they could prove to be a helpful piece of the sleep puzzle.

My ethos is always to look at food first. There are many reasons for this, not least because food always brings with it non-nutritive compounds called phytochemicals which protect our bodies at a cellular level, and as it stands at the moment, we can’t bottle those or put them in a pill effectively.

How to get magnesium from your diet.

Our requirement is around 300mg per day. Each food serve will give us about a fifth of this. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency will not be obvious and whilst intakes are certainly lower than they should be for many and therefore far from optimal, full-blown deficiency would be considered rare, especially if someone has a varied diet.

Rich sources include dark green leafy veg such as spinach, kale and broccoli.

It also found in abundance in nuts and seeds and wholegrains. Just one of the many reasons it’s not a good idea to shun carbohydrates all together, especially in the evening.

As an aside, carbohydrates release insulin which helps with the transport of the amino acid tryptophan across the blood, brain barrier. Once inside the brain it is used to make serotonin, which in turn converts to melatonin – the hormone we need for sleep.

For clarity on carbs and how you can navigate this food group to support your health download my free ebook on Gaining Clarity with Carbs.

Meat and dairy contain less magnesium, and you won’t find much of it in refined carbs which have had the nutrient-rich outer layers removed.


How does magnesium fit into the perimenopausal diet?

With magnesium having such a broad range of functions in the body, it’s certainly a mineral we want to make sure we have enough of.

Its association with relaxation and cognitive function are two of the reasons it might prove beneficial to the menopausal woman. Studies also show an association with low mood and low levels of magnesium.

Once you’ve considered your food sources of magnesium, additional supplements may be worth considering, depending on your symptoms and any medical treatment you are receiving to support your fluctuating hormone levels.

Magnesium and Sleep for the perimenopausal woman

There’s no doubt sleep is a precious gift, that many mid-life women are robbed of. A combination of menopausal symptoms that disturb sleep and the associated changes in mood and anxiety levels can all contribute to not much slumber time.

As with all these things, it’s never as straight forward as taking a supplement to ‘fix’ things and it’s important to assess and look at the bigger picture, particularly when it comes to management of sleep.

Supplementing with magnesium

There are many different forms of magnesium and different preparations will serve different supplementary benefits in the body.

A standard supplement dose would be 200-400mg / day.

Magnesium Oxide is not absorbed so well and therefore has more digestive side effects such as diarrhoea and bloating – hence it tends to be used as laxative.

Magnesium citrate has a lesser effect on stools and is better tolerated for use with improving sleep and mood. It has higher bioavailability, meaning it can be more easily absorbed by the body.

There are also some more fancy versions of Magnesium (i.e. that don’t seem to be available in Holland and Barratt). Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate seems to be rated highly amongst the sleep experts I know and is available online.

The highlighted links are merely examples. I am not affiliated with these brands, nor am I recommending them over and above other brands available.

If you’re considering supplementing your diet, do consider seeking some individualised advice.

Information written in this blog is not a substitute for that.

For help with your wellbeing in mid-life and the opportunity to consider your nutritional needs in the context of the rest of your lifestyle do get in touch to book a free call.

I’m off to have spinach surprise for tea! These cheese and spinach muffins and spinach pancakes are old favourites of mine and make great snacks or light lunches to boost your magnesium intakes.