The tricky truth about magnesium for sleep
Should you take magnesium for sleep? The true answer: it depends. While many health practitioners tout magnesium as the cure-all for sleep problems, this essential mineral isn't the quick and easy answer we hope it to be.
But first, let’s talk about why magnesium is important and why so many of us don’t get enough.
What does magnesium do?
Magnesium is a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes in the body
Magnesium produces and transports energy
Magnesium is necessary for protein synthesis
Magnesium transmits nerve signals
Magnesium relaxes muscles
Studies show that magnesium can be used to treat the following symptoms:
Anxiety and depression
Musculoskeletal conditions like fibromyalgia
Holy cow, that's an impressive list!
How magnesium helps us sleep
Serotonin depends on magnesium for production and function. Your body converts serotonin to melatonin, your sleepy hormone.
People with low magnesium often sleep restlessly and wake up frequently during the night.
Magnesium maintains good levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps you relax and promotes sleep.
Magnesium can help with restless leg syndrome.
Magnesium regulates stress, stabilizes your mood and helps with anxiety.
I first learned about magnesium from Dr. Carolyn Dean's book The Magnesium Miracle. If you like to dork out about nutrition like I do, I highly recommend it.
It’s estimated that 75% of Americans do not get enough magnesium, although it's impossible to verify because there's no standardized test.
Why magnesium deficiency is so widespread
our soils and therefore our foods lack magnesium
I love that Dr. Dean says,“The smart way to be assured of quality organic food is to join a community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) cooperative and buy a share in a local organic farm every year.”
processed and junk foods don't have magnesium
the fluoride in tap water binds to magnesium making us unable to absorb it
you need stomach acid to absorb magnesium
oxalic acid in leafy greens and phytic acid in grains and seeds inhibit absorption
grains, seeds, nuts and legumes need to be properly prepared for magnesium to be available (more below)
drugs like birth control pills, some antibiotics and corticosteroids create magnesium deficiencies
you need calcium (but not too much), vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium and boron to absorb magnesium
How to get magnesium
The best dietary sources of this important mineral are green vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and unprocessed grains. However, you need to properly prepare these foods so that magnesium and other nutrients become available.
Except for green vegetables, these foods are seeds that contain all the nutrients they need to grow. Until they are in optimal growing conditions, those nutrients are bound up in the seed. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting mimic germination, telling those seeds to release their nutrients and start growing. Without this preparation, those vitamins and minerals stay in the seed, unavailable to your body as they pass through your digestive system.
You also need a healthy gut to absorb vitamins and minerals from food. That’s why I always start with gut health with my clients. You can take all the supplements you want, but if you have leaky gut or gut infections you won’t absorb what you need.
Our body absorbs topical magnesium much better than oral supplements without causing loose stools. You have a few options here:
Magnesium oil or spray
Foot or bath soak with epsom salts or magnesium flakes, ½ cup for 20-30 minutes.
You don’t absorb oral magnesium supplements as well as topical. But here are the forms that I recommend:
My favorite magnesium supplements
Designs for Health Magnesium Malate
Designs for Health Magnesium Glycinate Chelate
The recommended dose is 5 times your body weight in mgs.* However, I suggest starting gradually and finding your optimal dose. Start with 1 pill and add one at a time until you reach your dose or get loose stools. If you get loose stools, decrease by 1 pill and you're at your optimal dose.
I’m warning you that you won’t absorb magnesium if you don’t have the right cofactors.
Luckily, magnesium isn't toxic. The side effect of taking too much is loose stools which is harmless although not my idea of a rocking party.
The best way to really know your mineral levels is to take a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) test. This test will tell you whether you're deficient or losing magnesium and the levels of other minerals that you need to absorb it. (Blood tests are unreliable because only 1% of the body’s magnesium is concentrated in the blood.)
For example, if your calcium levels are too high then your body won't be able to use any of the magnesium supplements you choke down. If you don't have enough boron (like me), then you're flushing your money down the drain (along with your loose stools).
The only way to ensure that you aren't wasting money on magnesium supplements and not getting the benefits of this crucial mineral is to take an HTMA test. My Boss Sleep Solution program includes this test because magnesium and mineral balance are so crucial for sleep.
I dork out on health testing (and I dream about it, too!). So if all this supplement and absorption talk is not your cup of tea, leave the science to me so you can sleep like a baby and dream about sweeter things. If you've tried all the supplements and you still aren't sleeping, let's chat! Schedule a call so we can get to the bottom of why you aren't sleeping and how to fix it.
*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Talk to your doctor or health practitioner before starting new supplements of any kind.