When it comes to sleep, many people know the importance and want more. But, they struggle getting it. People search for sleep aids, and sometimes they’re more harm than good. But what about magnesium or melatonin? Both are “natural.” So which is better? Let’s find out by starting with the most common sleep issues…
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Fatigue regardless of number of hours slept
- Tired in the morning but wired at night
In this article, we discuss two common sleep aids: Melatonin and Magnesium. But before we dive into these, we need to cover one topic first. Circadian rhythm. You’ve probably heard of it, but what does it mean? Well, quite literally, it means “about day.” Circa = about. Dia = day. Before Edison came around with the light bulb, our eyes told our brains what time it was through sunlight and darkness. Our biochemistry changes in darkness vs daytime, or in a sleeping state vs an awake state. An imbalance here usually affects humans in one of two ways:
- We’re tired when we need energy
- We’re wired when we need sleep
Here are a few general tips to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm:
- Put screens away at night. Melatonin is inhibited by blue light (1). T.v, your phone and computer screens right before bed prevent melatonin from increasing, pushing your circadian rhythm in the wrong direction.
- Wind down and wake up with the sun (or close to it).
- Eat an anti-inflammatory and nutrient rich diet (eh hem…#131style)
- Incorporate daily stress reducing activities.
Now that we’ve briefly covered a critical process, let’s move onto: magnesium or melatonin.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate sleep and wake cycles. Most people think of this as a hormone that helps you fall asleep, but it’s actually what helps you stay asleep and regulates the sleep-wake cycles (2). This hormone is commonly referred to as the, “dracula of hormones,” because it’s released in darkness. Melatonin has many functions, but a big one is reducing adrenaline output by our adrenal glands. We need that for survival during a dangerous situation, but not during sleep. We should all be able to naturally produce our own melatonin, but due to poor diets, high stress environments and a world dominated by light for more productivity, we can screw up the production process. Conveniently, ways to naturally increase melatonin production match the tips above for circadian rhythm.
Taking melatonin sounds like a simple solution, but it’s not a magic bullet. You need to address why you’re having trouble sleeping. Supplementation is not meant to treat insomnia. Rather, it’s best used to help shift the timing of sleep (not the amount). Shift workers are a good example of people who may benefit from short-term use.
- Work with a professional before supplementing melatonin
- Recommended dosage is much lower than what’s typically sold. Effective dosages are 1 mg or less (not the 3-10 mg in many products)
- Do not combine with other sleep aids or alcohol
- Take 90 minutes before bed
- Use temporarily while addressing the root issue
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral used in hundreds of reactions in the body and is well supported in research to promote sleep and relaxation (3-6). Food sources include: pumpkin seeds, cocoa, dark leafy greens, almonds, molasses, many beans, buckwheat, amaranth, Brazil nuts, and many herbs/spices. Epsom salt in baths or topical magnesium oil are also great sources absorbed through the skin.
We always promote food first, but sometimes, an individual may benefit from a little extra supplement support. When it comes to magnesium, the options can be overwhelming. Let’s simplify with a list of common forms of magnesium.
- A magnesium plus an amino acid, glycine. This form absorbs well in the gut and is one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium (7). Glycine and magnesium both have calming effects which makes this a good evening supplement to support relaxation before bed (8). Compared to other forms, there are fewdigestive side effects with magnesium glycinate.
- Brand: Seeking Health, Thorne, Pure Encapsulations, Klaire Labs
- A magnesium plus citric acid. This form is also highly bioavailable (9). It helps relax bowels, so loose stools can occur. It does support sleep but is likely best for someone also struggling with constipation(10).
- Brand: Thorne, Seeking Health, Xymogen, Pure Encapsulations, NuMedica, Natural Calm
- A magnesium plus a chelating agent called L-threonate, which is helpful for crossing the blood-brain barrier (11). Numerous animal studies show memory enhancing benefits of magnesium threonate(12-13). This animal research is promising but more human research is needed to confirm its benefits.
- Brand: Xymogen OptiMag Neuro
- A magnesium plus malic acid, an important intermediate in energy production. This form supports cellular energy metabolism in cases of pain, like fibromyalgia (14).
- Brand: Seeking Health, Designs for Health, Pure Encapsulations
- Used in products to promote gut motility. It has laxative effects and is poorly absorbed.
- Brand: Not recommended.
- Magnesium plus taurine. Both magnesium and taurine have cardiovascular, gallbladder and nervous system benefits. Use if recommended by your provider.
- Brand: Douglas Labs
- Often found in Epsom salt baths, but not oral form. It is absorbed through the skin.
What is Magnesium Stearate?
Magnesium stearate is magnesium plus a long-chained fatty acid, stearic acid. This appears in the “other ingredient” section of many supplements. It’s used to help bind ingredients during processing and to keep it from sticking to equipment. Whether or not it’s a safe ingredient is highly debated. Claims exist about it affecting the immune system, allergies and nutrient absorption. However, there’s lack of evidence supporting those claims, and the very small amount in supplements shouldn’t affect the majority of the population.
What is Chelated Magnesium?
Chelated means chemical bonding. Magnesium is not easily absorbed on its own in supplemental form, so manufacturers (bind) it with organic or amino acids to enhance absorption.
Does Topical Magnesium Work?
Absolutely! Magnesium is absorbed through the skin so magnesium oils/spray and body butters are great!
Dosage varies from person-to-person. Start on the smaller end of what the label advises and increase as able/needed. Always refer to medical provider for individual concerns or questions. A general starting place is 200 – 400 mg.
Should Magnesium be Taken in the Morning or at Night?
Timing depends on what you’re using it for. For sleep, obviously take it in the evening, but some take it in the morning or multiple times per day for things like anxiety or pain.
To summarize, there are benefits to both melatonin and magnesium, but you’ll need to factor in the study of one (you). Use the tips above and the knowledge you have on your body to get the best sleep of your life! Sweet dreams!