Magnesium for better sleep.


The one about Magnesium.

In case you missed my last sleep related blog posts on revenge bedtime procrastination, adrenal gland and cortisol testing, and diet and lifestyle tips for a restful night’s sleep, you can catch them here and here

Now, I want to cover some of my fave sleep supportive nutraceutical and botanical medicines.

First up – my MVP: Magnesium!

Hands down one of my first recommendations for sleep support (and dozens of other concerns). Since magnesium increases the activity of GABA (our anti anxiety and sleep hormone) it improves sleep and decreases anxiety. It also acts as a natural muscle relaxant, which can help sleep by easing aches or pains and by general relaxation of the physical body. Magnesium is a critical mineral in the human body and is involved in ~80% of known metabolic functions. I could go on and on about its uses but I will focus on sleep!

The low-down on types of Magnesium:

Magnesium Oxide vs Citrate:

Many are familiar with magnesium these days but often feel confused on the various types. Some forms are poorly absorbed and act mostly as osmotic laxatives (drawing water into the colon), such as magnesium oxide. My favorite type of magnesium to use for those who suffer from constipation is magnesium citrate because it has a (well tolerated) laxative effect while also being highly absorbed into the bloodstream (in order to exert the myriad of other benefits that magnesium has on the body). I have had patients bring in bottles of Magnesium oxide that literally say, “high absorption!” on the front label. Unfortunately, you have to be a well informed consumer in order to not waste your money (or in this case be stuck in the bathroom).

Magnesium Glycinate (also known as bisglycinate):

If constipation isn’t an issue, for those with sensitive bowels, IBS-D, or simply that our main goal revolves around treating stress, anxiety, or sleep, my go-to is magnesium glycinate. The amino acid glycine acts as a neurotransmitter (chemical in your brain) with similar effects to GABA, promoting feelings of calm. In fact, glycine is used on its own as a sleep support! It has been found to drop your body temp (a very key determinator for sleep quality/depth) and increase serotonin levels, which in turn is needed to make melatonin. Research has found glycine not only helps you fall asleep faster, you’ll spend more time in REM sleep (important for mood/emotional processing, memory consolidation, and learning).


Magnesium threonate is another option. A bit more expensive, it crosses the BBB (blood-brain-barrier) better than other forms of magnesium. It is a good option to try if the citrate or glycinate types aren’t doing the trick for your sleep and/or your main concern isn’t just sleep quality but learning, memory, and cognition. It’s pretty impressive: a recent 2022 study found that in just 30 days of supplementation, participants (aged 18-65) had a significant improvement in 5 categories of memory and cognition compared to their baselines – with the older participants benefiting more than the younger!

Magnesium insufficiency (who needs magnesium…a lot of us) & food sources:

Research suggests that around 50% of the US population is magnesium deficient. Not surprising given the epidemic of stress. It is well known that stress depletes magnesium as do many pharmaceutical medications, including:

  • Birth control pills
  • Acid blockers & antacids
  • Diuretics and some other blood pressure medications
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Certain stimulants for ADHD 
  • Statins for high cholesterol, and more. 

So even if you are doing a fab job of including magnesium rich foods in your diet, such as:

  • Leafy greens
  • Avocados
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Legumes
  • Brown rice or quinoa
  • Bananas
  • Or a square of dark – I repeat dark – chocolate (yaaasss – this is part of why you crave chocolate on your period), you could still be coming up short. 

(Aside for the chocolate lovers)

  • Dark chocolate can contain ~4x the magnesium, 2x the potassium, over 3x the iron, and up to 5x the antioxidants (polyphenols) as milk chocolate and is also a decent source of zinc. 
  • Dark chocolate contains far less sugar and more fibre (e.g. 3 g vs 0.67 g per 1 oz) – so not to mess with your blood sugar as much.
  • Dark chocolate is considered 60% and up, but the darker the better with most studies using 90%. For those who think they can’t go dark, work your way up slowly over time, your taste buds adjust.
  • I tell patients to at least aim for 70%+ (cacao percentage)
  • Remember the serving is 1-2 oz max/day to get some benefit without overdoing sugar 

How we cook our foods as well as other dietary habits also play a role in our magnesium intake or absorption.

Other factors that can lower magnesium levels include:

  • Drinking too much coffee, soda, or alcohol 
  • Supplements or sport formulas that contain caffeine
  • Excess intake of some fizzy/flavoured drinks or processed foods (phosphoric acid content, high sodium intake)
  • A diet high in refined and processed sugars
  • Intake of some artificial sweeteners
  • And boiling your mag rich foods! If you boil magnesium rich veggies, their mineral content will be significantly lower and is lost in the boiling water 

Also, I’m going to drop this really depressing fact: estimates put the mineral content of vegetables declining by as much as 80–90% over the last 100 years 😭. When it comes to grains, the milling process is especially depleting, so opting for whole grains is also helpful.

Certain health conditions can predispose to magnesium deficiency as well, such as:

  • Gastrointestinal disease, e.g. IBS or IBD (Crohn’s, Colitis) or Celiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pancreatitis
  • And kidney disease.

What are some of the symptoms of low magnesium and/or conditions associated with an increased requirement for magnesium?

  • Sleep disorders
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression
  • Muscle tension, cramps, or eye twitching
  • Headaches – tension or migraine headaches
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • Abnormal heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • PMS and menstrual cramps
  • Poor memory or concentration
  • ADHD
  • Age related cognitive decline
  • Nausea or low appetite
  • Asthma
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease, and more.

Can you check off one or a few of the above mediations, conditions, or symptoms?

If so, make sure you’re replacing depleted magnesium daily via increasing magnesium in your diet and/or by supplementation.

Quality or purity matters for results:

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say so: the quality of the supplement is important. I’ve noticed magnesium bottles that say magnesium glycinate on the front of the bottle but when you look at the back label, it is actually a blend of magnesium types – some not so well absorbed. I find this misleading and I’ve seen it from companies that I normally like their products. Always check the label. Also, most companies only list the amount of elemental magnesium (typically 100-200 mg per capsule) while some will also clarify how much glycinate is in each capsule.

Stay tuned for more of my favourite sleep supportive supplements.

And if you haven’t downloaded my “Make Sleep Your Super Power” Ebook yet – click here! It’s free & full of helpful information to help you get a good night’s rest.

- Dr. Willow

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I help women achieve optimal digestive and hormonal wellness through a root cause, individualized approach to medicine that utilizes functional lab testing, diet and lifestyle modification, nutritional and herbal medicine, and acupuncture to re-establish lasting health.


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