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Magnesium: Why you need this mineral for better sleep, mood and more

How this do-it-all mineral can improve your sense of well being.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
5 min read
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Most of us have a cabinet full of supplements that, at some point, get neglected. Whether it's because you fell out of your routine or you forgot why you even started it in the first place, there's one supplement that most Americans could benefit from adding back into their regimen: magnesium.

Studies show that the majority of the population is at risk for magnesium deficiency due to a variety of lifestyle factors, including a diet high in processed food. Certain illnesses or health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes or alcohol dependency, can make you susceptible to low magnesium levels, too. A 2013-2016 analysis from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 48% of Americans don't get adequate magnesium in their diets. 

Magnesium supplements have become popular in the wellness space recently, and many experts are recommending them for helping with sleep , stress, anxiety and more. But do these claims hold up? Below, I give an overview of the science on magnesium, and I also talked to registered dietitian Amy Gorin to find out more on why magnesium is important and how to know if a supplement may be right for you.

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Why magnesium is important for health 

Magnesium requirements vary based on a person's age, gender and other health factors (like pregnancy), but the average recommendation is around 300mg per day. 

"Magnesium is important for so many aspects of health. The mineral is involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It's important for bone health, helping to keep your blood sugar levels stable, helping your muscles and nerves to properly function, and keeping your blood pressure at healthy levels," Gorin says.

Magnesium levels also affect your brain and your mood, which is why low levels of magnesium are associated with mood disorders, although more research needs to be done to determine just how important it is for your emotional or mental health. 

Magnesium and stress

If you've ever asked a health expert about the best supplements for stress, chances are magnesium is on the list. Why? First of all, according to Gorin, magnesium helps the brain cope with stressors. "Research has shown that magnesium supplementation may affect the brain functions that help lower stress and anxiety," Gorin says. 

It works by helping your body kick into the "rest and digest" state, or by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. When you are stressed, your body is likely in the sympathetic nervous system for prolonged periods, which over time can make you feel run down and tired. Studies also showed that magnesium intake helped improve heart-rate variability (HRV) scores, which are representative of how well your body can adapt to stress.

Magnesium and sleep

Likewise, magnesium can help you sleep better, since the mineral can have a calming effect on your body.  Magnesium helps regulate the hormone melatonin, which is involved with controlling your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm regulates many things in your body, including when you feel tired and how well you sleep. 

Many activities and habits can throw off your circadian rhythm, including exposing your eyes to blue light at night. If you are trying to optimize your circadian rhythm, or are trying to get better sleep with melatonin supplements, you should check that your magnesium levels are optimal since they work together to help you get better rest.

Magnesium and fitness

A 2017 study reviewed the connection between magnesium and exercise performance, and found that the more active you are, the more your body needs magnesium. Some claim that it can help you recover faster from workouts, but the evidence on magnesium specifically for workout recovery is limited. 

We do know that your muscles need adequate magnesium to function well and avoid cramping, so it makes sense that optimal magnesium levels can facilitate better recovery from workouts.


Grains and seeds contain naturally occurring magnesium. 

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Magnesium and vitamin D 

Vitamin D is crucial for your overall well-being and especially for your immune system health. But even if you think you're getting enough vitamin D through supplementation or sun exposure, you could still be low if your magnesium levels are not optimal.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, low magnesium levels can make vitamin D ineffective. That means that even though you are taking in vitamin D from food, supplements or sunlight exposure, your body can't use it or benefit from it unless you have sufficient magnesium levels.

How to get enough magnesium

Magnesium is found naturally in food, like leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and milk, but it's usually in smaller amounts and it can be difficult to get the full 300 mg or more that is needed per day. Plus, scientists predict that only about 30% to 50% of the magnesium that you take in is actually absorbed in the body. For these reasons, many people turn to a supplement to ensure they are meeting their daily needs. 


There are several different types of magnesium supplements that can help specific issues.

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The different types of magnesium supplements

If you walk into a vitamin or health food store and look for magnesium supplements, you will likely find several different types. You can get magnesium supplements in powder form (like the popular Natural Vitality Calm supplement) that can be dissolved in water or you can take the mineral in a capsule or tablet. 

But not all magnesium supplements are the same, which is why it's important to not only seek a health professional's guidance on which supplement may be best for you, but also understand that different forms of magnesium can have different side effects. For example, magnesium carbonate is one form of magnesium that, if you overdo it, you can end up with stomach upset and diarrhea. 

Popular forms of magnesium that are available in supplements:

Magnesium glycinate: "This is a common form of magnesium in supplement form. You might also see it used in heartburn treatments," Gorin says. Magnesium glycinate is often recommended by experts since it's absorbed well in the body and tends to cause less stomach discomfort or upset.

Magnesium oxide: "This form of magnesium can be used as an antacid for heartburn relief, as a short-term laxative, or as a dietary supplement when you're not taking in enough magnesium from food," Gorin says. 

Magnesium citrate: "This form of magnesium is sometimes used as a stool softener or laxative," Gorin says.

Magnesium L-threonate: "This is a specific type of magnesium that's been proven to have cognitive benefits. It was discovered by MIT researchers, and you can get it in supplement form. Research suggests that it may help improve brain plasticity, which may have positive effects on memory, learning and cognition," Gorin says.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.