Over-the-counter, all-natural supplements are a seemingly easy, low-risk way to treat whatever ails you, but sometimes the convenience of it all can make us forget that there are still risks to supplements, including convincing yourself that you feel better when you don’t, potentially masking an underlying health issue. One cure-all supplement as of late: magnesium. People claim that it has helped them with period cramps, migraines, aches and inflammation, and even sleep.
But while a natural sleep aid with all these added benefits sounds pretty great, is it worth the hype? POPSUGAR spoke with experts to find out.
Will Taking a Magnesium Supplement Improve Your Sleep?
Magnesium, an essential mineral that plays a role in more than 300 different processes in the body, has gained popularity as a sleep aid because it’s known to ease muscle tension and create a general feeling of relaxation. Magnesium’s sleep benefits are highly debated, though. In fact, the one thing experts seem to agree on is that for most people, taking a supplement won’t improve a whole lot.
“The data so far is weak at best,” Alon Avidan, MD, MPH, a professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the director of UCLA’s Sleep Disorders Center, told POPSUGAR. Many of the studies were “not done with the strongest clinical evaluation,” he explained, which is problematic when “a high placebo response is really common.” These tests look at the Insomnia Severity Index, which is known to be highly subjective. In Dr. Avidan’s view, a strong sleep study would include close monitoring for about six months, and no studies he’s seen have actually done that.
However, magnesium has been proven to help people with restless leg syndrome (RLS), which makes the supplement a viable option for those whose sleep problems stem from their urge to move at night. This includes nonclinical conditions, like involuntarily kicking in your sleep. If you have RLS or otherwise feel restless at night, Dr. Avidan noted that taking magnesium about 20 to 30 minutes before bed may help.
Does Magnesium Have Any Side Effects?
Dr. Avidan expressed concern that magnesium could potentially cause or exacerbate gastrointestinal problems. Additionally, while magnesium toxicity is rare, there could be other ingredients in a supplement that may be harmful. “These products may be marketed and sold without FDA approval and may involve dangerous side effects or adverse drug reactions,” explained Rajkumar (Raj) Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and an American Academy of Sleep Medicine spokesperson. Dr. Raj added that, for this reason, he encourages anyone who wants to start a supplement to discuss it with their doctor first.
Bottom line? If your insomnia is severe, the best thing you can do is talk to your primary care physician. “We don’t want people to be self-medicating,” Dr. Avidan said — because there’s a risk that by simply masking your symptoms with supplements, you’re leaving a more serious condition, like sleep apnea, untreated. So, make that appointment.