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Move Over Melatonin: A Guide to Taking Magnesium for Sleep

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Sleep aids these days are a dime a dozen. Many recommend using supplements like melatonin to catch some Zs while others swear by counting or breathing techniques that lull them into slumber. Even wearing socks or splashing our face with cold water seem to be tactics that people claim work. But who’s to say for sure?

The world of sleep aids is confusing, and breaking the cycle of insomnia can be a painful process. We can change our routines and test countless tactics, but often these fall short, and we’re left lying awake in bed for hours on end.

One supplement that’s gained recent attention as a helpful sleep aid, however, is magnesium. As an essential mineral with countless benefits, taking magnesium as a supplement may be worthwhile for reasons beyond sleep. But let’s take some time to focus on using magnesium for restful sleep.

To get there, let’s start with some of the basics. Read on to learn more about magnesium and it’s potential ability to combat our sleepless nights.

What Is Magnesium?

Before we jump into the world of magnesium and sleep, let’s start with some of the basics by getting to know magnesium a little better. Some of us may know magnesium as that element on the periodic table with an atomic number of 12, and it plays an important role in our everyday lives.

As it pertains to our bodies, we identify magnesium as a mineral that’s important for bone health, heart health, nerve function, and more. And while many of us consume magnesium in the foods we eat every day, magnesium deficiency is a rather common issue for older adults and African Americans. Low magnesium levels in the body have been linked to various diseases and health conditions like osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and more.

So if we acquire magnesium from our diet, we need to know which food sources contain it. A simple way to find out is to find the foods that are high in fiber. Foods high in fiber are commonly high in magnesium.

Some magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts, seeds (like cashews), whole grains, avocado, dairy products, and meat. We can use magnesium as a laxative to ensure we remain regular. And even water that contains a high level of minerals (referred to as “hard” water) frequently contains magnesium in significant amounts.

As we can see, magnesium may be a simple mineral but its abilities are extensive. Now that we’ve gained a basic understanding of the role it plays in our lives, let’s discuss what it can do to provide us with better sleep.

Why Is Magnesium Important for Sleep?

While it’s true that magnesium can act as a powerful laxative and proponent of bone health, it can also help us sleep better. So how does it work its night time magic? Think for a moment about what it takes to fall asleep.

We prefer the room to be dark, relatively quiet, and just the right temperature. The bed needs to be comfortable, gizmos and gadgets need to be set aside, and everything has to align perfectly to ensure we can snooze.

In order to fall asleep, our body and mind need to feel relaxed. From a chemical standpoint, magnesium helps us achieve this goal by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for making us feel calm and relaxed. And it does so in a myriad of ways.

First, magnesium will start by regulating the neurotransmitters in our brain that send signals through our brain and nervous system. Then it will regulate the chemical hormone melatonin, which dictates our sleep-wake cycles.

From there, magnesium will bind to receptors in the brain known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. These are responsible for ensuring the neural activity in our brain begins to hush, and it’s the same neurotransmitter found in prescription sleep aids like Ambien. All of these components will work together to prepare our body and mind for sleep.

Yet magnesium can do more than prepare us for sleep. It can also help us stay asleep and fall into a deeper sleep when our eyes finally close. Multiple studies have shown that magnesium supplements produced a better quality of sleep in the elderly and insomniacs.

This effect likely occurs because magnesium influences our nervous system, blocking the excitable molecules that would otherwise bind to neurons and keep us wide awake. Others too have found that magnesium can combat restless leg syndrome, as a deficiency in magnesium may cause this aching.

As we can see, magnesium isn’t used to make us fall asleep instantly. Taking supplemental magnesium will not force our brain to shut down in a matter of minutes.

Instead, a magnesium dietary supplement will prepare our body and mind for sleep. And from there it will help us stay asleep when we finally succumb to slumber. It will act as a relaxant and play a key role in combating poor sleep or fatigue to improve our overall sleep quality.

Our Body Needs Magnesium for Sleep

Believe it or not, our body actually needs magnesium for sleep. If it doesn’t have enough magnesium, we may actually run into sleep problems or develop sleep disorders like insomnia. Clinical trials conducted on animals have shown that the amount of magnesium in our body directly correlates with our quality of sleep. Low levels or high levels prove to be problematic.

Certain groups of individuals are unfortunately prone to experiencing some form of magnesium deficiency. As we mentioned earlier, older adults and African Americans are prone to such deficiencies, but so too are those with digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease that prevent magnesium absorption, those with diabetes who lose magnesium quickly, and those with an alcohol dependency (magnesium deficiency is common in alcoholics).

Consuming the Right Amount of Magnesium

Recommendations from the Institute of Medicine suggest adult women consume between 310-360 mg of magnesium each day, while adult men should consume between 400-420 mg of magnesium.

You can increase your magnesium consumption through dietary intake via the foods we eat or by utilizing a supplement like magnesium oil. Magnesium intake should be monitored from time to time, not only to ensure that our body is receiving enough magnesium, but also to ensure that it isn’t receiving too much.

Different types of magnesium exist that will aid the body in different ways. For instance, magnesium sulfate is the equivalent of epsom salt, and therefore perfectly suited to treat sore muscles. Magnesium chloride (the most popular form), on the other hand, encourages sleep, digestion, bone health, and a sense of calm. Magnesium citrate supports natural digestion and acts as a laxative. And magnesium oxide encourages improved digestion as well.

What Are the Potential Risks and Side Effects?

Large doses of magnesium, exceeding the recommended numbers, can lead to a magnesium overdose if overconsumption is repeated. Symptoms of a magnesium overdose include nausea, diarrhea, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, and fatigue. If taken in high doses for an extended period of time, magnesium can even be fatal.

Aside from the uppermost limits of magnesium supplementation, other side effects that may result from normal magnesium consumption include disrupting muscle function to cause muscle cramps or general cramping, stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. As with all supplements, it’s best to consult a licensed healthcare provider before deciding if magnesium supplementation should become an integral part of our lives.

Supplementing With Magnesium for Sleep

Magnesium is but one of many supplements we can utilize to help us both fall asleep and stay asleep. Though we often consume enough magnesium via dietary intake, some may benefit from using supplemental magnesium as well.

Talking with a healthcare professional to determine if magnesium supplementation will help with insomnia or restless nights can do a world of good. As we seek to improve our quality of sleep, magnesium is a supplement that could help.

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