Like many people I know, I’ve had a lot of anxiety over the past couple of months, and it’s been affecting my sleep. Instead of passing out as soon as my head hits the pillow, I find myself tossing and turning while running through the list of things I’d need to furnish a hypothetical underground bunker: canned goods, flashlights, Drake if he’d have me, and so on and so forth. Desperate for some shut-eye, I asked friends for non-medicinal options that could help me sleep, and several suggested that magnesium might do the trick. So I decided to consult with three experts and see what they thought.
First of all, what even is it? Well, magnesium is a key mineral that occurs naturally in a ton of foods I don’t get enough of, like spinach. Dr. Christopher D’Adamo, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, informed me that magnesium is involved in over 300 physiological processes — it’s essential for bone health, nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis, and more. If you aren’t getting enough magnesium, you could be at risk for osteoporosis and heart disease, as well as potentially anxiety and nervous-system disorders.
So how much magnesium does a person actually need? According to D’Adamo, the amount of magnesium a person needs each day depends on the individual and their age (and the medications they may be taking). But in general, adult men need 400 mg per day and adult women need 310 mg per day.
Where can I find magnesium? As I mentioned, magnesium can be found in a bunch of different foods, especially leafy green vegetables — Swiss chard, spinach, and the like. “The problem is, people aren’t eating their leafy greens as much as we probably want,” D’Adamo told me. But luckily, there’s magnesium in other foods, too, including nuts, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. D’Adamo said you might be able to get the recommended amount of magnesium through two servings of leafy greens per day, or one serving of leafy greens and one serving of pumpkin seeds. But of course, you can also find it in dietary supplements, which brings me to …
What do I need to know about magnesium supplements? If you’re taking a multivitamin, chances are, it won’t have enough magnesium. “They don’t have that much minerals in general, because minerals take up more space in a capsule or tablet,” D’Adamo explained. On top of that, your multivitamin may contain magnesium oxide, which your body doesn’t absorb very well. The doctor recommends instead that people buy supplements that contain magnesium citrate, glycinate, or succinate, which are more easily absorbed in the body.
But seriously, can magnesium help me sleep? Experts told me that, sadly, magnesium won’t knock me out like some kind of natural Ambien — but it could potentially help with sleep in other ways. Dr. Neil Kline of the American Sleep Association said there is “very little evidence” that magnesium can be used as a sleep aid, and that it is therefore “hard to recommend” as beneficial for sleep. However, Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, noted that it could make us feel relaxed at bedtime, which might lead to better sleep.
Magnesium, Dasgupta explained, can help relax our muscles — “Insomnia, getting good sleep, many of us believe that muscle relaxation is essential for that”— while also helping ease our anxiety (which contributes to insomnia). That’s because magnesium actually binds to a special neurotransmitter in our bodies called GABA, which is also a receptor for sleeping aids like Ambien. “When we supplement with magnesium, it also binds with that receptor and has anti-anxiety effects,” he said.
Who should avoid magnesium? Well, magnesium is, of course, necessary for living, but someone might want to steer clear of taking a magnesium supplement if they’re on certain antibiotics, because minerals can potentially diminish the efficacy of those drugs. In that instance, D’Adamo recommends consulting with your physician to hear about the possible drug interactions.