Magnesium for Sleep: Putting the Body in Balance

By Sheryl Grassie

Magnesium is an important nutrient for good sleep. It supports hormones and muscle relaxation that affect quality of sleep. Adequate magnesium can be supplied by a wholesome diet or supplemented as needed.

How Magnesium and Sleep Are Related

It makes sense that when our bodies are healthy and in balance, sleeping well is a natural result. We need the right amount of sunlight, exercise, and fresh air for a good night’s sleep, but we also need the right balance of nutrients. When we lack enough of the correct vitamins and minerals it can affect a number of different bodily functions and throw us out of balance, resulting in poor sleep.

When it comes to nutrients, magnesium is one of the most essential for good health and good sleep. It is so vital, that it affects literally every organ and every cell in the body. To give you a clearer picture, it is necessary for good heart health, stable blood pressure, strong bones, good muscle function, balanced hormones, metabolism, electrolytes and hydration, gut health, mood stabilization, and immune response, to name a few.

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that is found in many foods to varying degrees. High magnesium foods include green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, almonds, and cashews, and dark chocolate. Some nutritionists believe that a craving for chocolate can signal the need for more magnesium. To a lesser degree, it is also found in other vegetables, in unprocessed grains, meat and fish, and dairy products. Coffee contains some magnesium and blackstrap molasses is a good source, although not a dietary staple.

Insufficient magnesium plays a role in the production of sleep hormones that make us drowsy and keep us asleep, like melatonin. A low level of magnesium can compromise overall sleep functioning, and contribute to sleep disorders like insomnia and restless leg syndrome. Research is showing that increased magnesium intake, in the form of targeted nutrition or magnesium supplements, can decrease sleep problems.

How Much Magnesium Should You Take to Sleep Better?

If you have sleep problems, especially restless leg syndrome, you may want to monitor your magnesium intake. If you think you are not getting enough, consider both the foods you eat and the possibility of taking magnesium supplements. Magnesium is not stored in your body, but secreted through the urine. This means you need to constantly replenish your magnesium stores.

The recommended amount of magnesium in milligrams (mg) is 310-320mg for women and 400-420mg for men daily. Somewhere between 50-75% of both men and women are magnesium deficient. Low magnesium levels are linked to a greater risk of many disorders like type 2 diabetes, sleep problems, ADHD in children, and anxiety and depression.

Getting magnesium from your diet

Given the recommended amounts of magnesium, let’s look at a typical day of meals that would give you enough magnesium and what foods to focus on in order create an increase.

  • Women need 310-320mg of magnesium daily
  • Men need 400-420mg of magnesium daily

Breakfast

Avocado toast and a banana:  2 slices of whole wheat toast = 42 mg., 1 medium avocado = 58 mg, 1 medium banana = 32 mg. Breakfast total = 136 mg of magnesium

Lunch

A large chicken salad: 1 cup of dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula) = 158 mg, 3oz of chicken = 22 mg, ¼ cup pumpkin seeds = 45 mg, ½ cup broccoli = 12 mg, 1 med carrot = 7 mg. Lunch total = 244 mg of magnesium

Dinner

Salmon, rice and vegetable: 3 oz. of salmon = 26mg, ½ cup brown rice = 42 mg, ½ cup cooked spinach = 78 mg. Dinner total = 146 mg of magnesium

Daily total = 526 milligrams of magnesium, more than the recommended amount for women or men. If you eat fresh whole foods, and regularly incorporate dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds into your diet, you are probably in good shape. There is no problem with getting more magnesium than needed from food. Your body uses what it needs and discards the rest.

There are however, lots of problems that can result from with not getting enough magnesium. Get familiar with what the amount of magnesium in the foods you eat.

Should you supplement magnesium?

Prior to the 1950s it was relatively easy to get enough magnesium from the foods we ate. Lots of changes to agricultural practices have lowered the mineral content in the soil and consequently in the foods grown. Food production and food processing have lowered it even further. It’s estimated that magnesium levels have dropped between 25-80% for vegetables, and 80-95% for grains, due to modern processing methods and poor soil conditions. This, coupled with increasingly processed foods in our diets, make it difficult to get enough magnesium.

There are, however, ways to supplement your magnesium intake that are readily available.

  • Blackstrap Molasses: 1 tablespoon provides about 25% of the recommended daily intake
  • Dark Chocolate: 1 3 oz. chocolate bar has 280 mg of magnesium, but is also high in sugar and calories
  • Magnesium Supplements: can work well, but require monitoring and have both warnings and side effects.

Side Effects and Cautions

Dosage recommendations for supplemental magnesium are between 100-350 mg daily. More than 500-600 mg is not considered safe. High doses can cause diarrhea. Further supplemental magnesium can interact with some common medication like antacids and antibiotics, or even with other supplements. There are conditions like pregnancy, where magnesium intake should be monitored.  If you are taking other medications, pregnant or nursing, or have a significant health condition, check with your doctor before starting magnesium.


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