Healthy Eating Tips

For the Sleep of Your Dreams, Understanding the (Very) Different Ways That Melatonin and Magnesium Impact Your Circadian Rhythm Is Key

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If you get high-quality shuteye night after night, consider yourself (incredibly) lucky. But for the rest of us, we’re often required to seek and test out new ways to optimize our sleep, such as through healthy pre-ZZZ lifestyle habits and behaviors, finding ways to manage stress better in the daytime, and via food and supplements.

On this last point, there’s a decent chance you’re familiar with melatonin. But maybe you’ve also heard that magnesium has the potential to improve your sleep as well, and perhaps you’re wondering if you should prioritize the mineral in your wellness routine. To better understand how melatonin and magnesium differ in terms of improving sleep—as well as discover must-know tips and FYIs about intake—we consulted behavioral sleep specialist Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN.

Melatonin vs. magnesium in terms of sleep and circadian rhythm

To kick things off, Dr. Weiss helpfully outlines the basics of both sleep aids. For starters, she says that melatonin is a hormone that our pineal gland produces on its own. “Its primary function is to regulate circadian rhythms and sleep; melatonin signals that sleep time is approaching, helping us to fall asleep,” says Dr. Weiss. (She also notes that melatonin has a range of additional functions, including cell protection, neuroprotection, and influencing the reproductive system.)

Next up, we have magnesium, a micronutrient that as much as 50 to 75 percent of Americans lack. While Dr. Weiss mentions that its effect on sleep and circadian rhythms has yet to be fully understood, it plays “a critical role in regulating the central nervous system and is believed to reduce stress and improve sleep.” In other words, greater calm and ease can promote higher-quality sleep and fewer restless nights, though it doesn’t encourage sleep latency in the same way that melatonin does. She adds that magnesium can help those who suffer from restless leg syndrome, which can lead to disrupted sleep. (Moreover, magnesium deficiency can contribute to everything from fatigue and weakness to muscle cramps and high blood pressure, which underscores how important it is to prioritize the mineral regardless of whether your sleep game is solid.)

Key tips and FYIs about using melatonin vs. magnesium for better sleep

If you have a history of insomnia, Dr. Weiss clarifies that neither melatonin nor magnesium will be the gold standard for treatment. “The ideal treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy,” she says. (Read: If your sleep issues are chronic instead of touch-and-go, your best bet will be to see a sleep specialist to get to the root of the problem once and for all.) With that said, melatonin supplementation is most appropriate “for shift work disorder, jet lag, and circadian rhythm disorders,” Dr. Weiss continues.

However, Dr. Weiss calls out that newer studies testing the impact of melatonin and magnesium in people with insomnia are starting to show promising results. “Melatonin and magnesium are considered safe for consumption when respecting the adequate dose and can be taken together,” she says. These points considered, it’s essential to be mindful about your intake.

“For melatonin, the ideal dose is 0.3 to five milligrams, taken 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime,” Dr. Weiss shares. However, she notes that the dosage can be very different from what’s commercially available, so be sure to read your labels carefully and to slowly scale up if necessary. “The ideal dose for magnesium—glycinate or citrate—is 200 milligrams, 30 minutes before bedtime, [though] some researchers postulate that a safe dose of magnesium ranges from 200 to 400 milligrams,” the sleep specialist continues.

With these suggestions in mind, Dr. Weiss still suggests opting for other sleep solutions before beginning a new supplement routine. (And, as always, it’s best to consult a physician or health professional before beginning any new supplement protocol.) “I recommend opting for dietary sources and changing sleep behavior first, which means following a healthy diet and practicing sleep hygiene,” Dr. Weiss advises.

On top of sticking to a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet, you can also incorporate more foods and drinks that contain these sleep aids throughout your day. On a parting note, Dr. Weiss shares her list of foods that you may want to pin for your next grocery haul:

Melatonin: banana, pineapple, corn, almonds, spinach, kiwi, tart cherries, turkey, walnut

Magnesium: cashews, almonds, soybeans, baked beans, whole grains, quinoa, edamame, spinach

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