Does Magnesium Help Sleep?

In last week’s post we discussed some of the possible benefit of giving up electronic screens before bed to avoid blue light. Some people may even wear yellow/orange visors to filter out the blue light.

Today I want to talk about something I’ve mentioned before, and something that many people lack; magnesium.

Magnesium is a metal that is required in the body for over 300 different reactions. It is found in many different foods in various quantities and sold in you local drug stores, supermarkets and everywhere else. The substance has been used for numerous ailments, and rightly so, since it has a wide variety of uses in the body.

So does it help in sleep?

In your brain there is a neurotransmitter called GABA  which is responsible for some of the calming actions in the brain. If the brain had an “on” and “off” switch, GABA could be likened to the off. That is a very basic view of it and there is more involved to it, but for the purposes of this talk lets keep it simple. If you’re interested in some heavier reading, or if you want to read it to put you to sleep, you can go here:

In the evening, in the hypothalamus, GABA is used, as well as another transmitter called galanin, to calm the brain down. It does so by inhibiting the arousal areas of the brain. It’s kind of like when you had a friend spending the night at your house and you’d get a bit loud, then your dad came and banged on the door or wall telling you to pipe down. GABA kind of does the same thing.

Here’s the thing; GABA is potentiated by magnesium [1].

People who have chronically low levels of magnesium may have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. I can’t speak to the number of people who come into the pharmacy for things like zolpidem for sleep, but I’d love to see what their magnesium levels are and if something like a supplemental magnesium would help. I do know we over prescribe sleep agents.

From a personal note, I have had better sleep with magnesium and know people to whom I’ve recommended it get better sleep as well. I know this is anecdotal, but it is strong enough evidence for me to recommend it.

In a small trial in Italy, researchers looked at supplemental magnesium with zinc and melatonin in patients living in long-term care facilities. They found that this combo helped the patients get to sleep faster and it was more restful. [2] The downside is that in this study, because they used 3 supplements together, we can’t extrapolate the benefit just to the magnesium, especially as we know that melatonin can also help people with sleep.

Magnesium can also address issues of restless leg [3], muscle cramping and twitching, and cold hands.

As a side note, here’s a list of drugs that deplete magnesium in the body:

-Birth Control Pills

-sucralfate (Carafate)



-corticosteroids (ie prednisone, dexamethasone, fluticasone)

-divalproex (Depakote)

-phenytoin (Dilantin)

-triamterene/hydrochlorothiazide (Dyazide)


-hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)

-levetiracetam (Keppra)


-furosemide, torsemide, bumetanide

-gabapentin (Neurontin)



-senna (Ex-Lax)

I’ve said this before but it bears being repeated: Don’t take magnesium oxide! Magnesium oxide just doesn’t get absorbed well. If you want to use it to induce a visit to your nearest commode, then by all means, but if you’re actually looking to get magnesium into your blood there are better options.

There are lots of forms of magnesium. Be sure to get a good one.

There are lots of forms of magnesium. Be sure to get a good one.

Magnesium comes in various forms. Here are a few and some general uses:

1. Mag Oxide: As stated above this is good for getting a great laxative effect. This was the form used in the Italian study. It would have been interesting to see if another form had been used if it would have been even more effective.

2.Mag Glycinate: This one is well absorbed because of glycinate transporters in the gut. Both magnesium and glycinate have calming effects and may make this a good candidate for muscle hypertonicity and chronic pain. It has a small laxative effect compared to others.

3.Mag Malate: This one could be used for fibromyalgia as malate is a substrate for energy production. It is also well absorbed.

4. Mag Citrate: Well absorbed and a good all around option. Can still produce some loose stool though. This is the form I take.

5.Mag Orotate: This may be good for heart health as orotates get into the cell membranes easier and may benefit in cellular repair and energy production. [4,5] This may be good for people with cardiovascular disease

6. Mag Sulfate: This one is usually injected intravenously. It is also found in Epsom Salt baths.

These are just a few and there are more but if you stick to the above listed, minus the oxide, you’ll probably be just fine. 200-400 mg/day is likely what most people would need. You’ll have to titrate the dose depending on if you have really loose stool or not. Try some a couple of times a day without food.

If anybody has had any experience with magnesium and sleep please let me know about it. I’d love to hear what has worked for you.



1.  Uusi-Oukari M, Heikkila J, Lovinger DM, Luddens H, Korpi ER. Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. Moykkynen T, . Neuroreport. 2001 Jul 20;12(10):2175-9

2.Rondanelli, Mariangela, et al. “The Effect of Melatonin, Magnesium, and Zinc on Primary Insomnia in Long‐Term Care Facility Residents in Italy: A Double‐Blind, Placebo‐Controlled Clinical Trial.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 59.1 (2011): 82-90.

3.Hornyak, Magdolna, et al. “Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study.” Sleep 21.5 (1998): 501-505.

4.Stepura OB, Tomaeva FE, Zvereva TV. Orotic acid as a metabolic agent. Vestn Ross Akad Med Nauk. 2002; (2): 39-41.

5.Geiss, K-R., et al. “Effects of magnesium orotate on exercise tolerance in patients with coronary heart disease.” Cardiovascular drugs and therapy 12.2 (1998): 153-156.



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