If you have trouble sleeping, you’ve likely heard of melatonin as a natural alternative to prescription sleep aids. The supplement has gotten a lot of buzz from the media and word of mouth with some folks swearing by it as their go-to remedy.
In the ever-evolving market, though, there’s a newer kid in town, and its name is magnesium. The hype surrounding magnesium has some consumers re-thinking their sleep-aid strategy and wondering whether they should purchase magnesium or melatonin.
This article will take an in-depth look at both of these sleep supplements, including how they work, the differences between them, and which is better for a restful night.
Are Sleep Aids Safe Long-Term?
A sleep aid can start as something you use on occasion, say, after a long overseas trip. What happens, though, when that evolves into regular consumption?
For those who struggle with insomnia, you may have a doctor prescribe sleeping pills. Health experts1 say taking these pills for too long, however, could lead to dependency. The same goes for over-the-counter remedies; they are meant to be a temporary solution.
That said, a lot of research is still being done concerning the long-term safety of melatonin2 and its health benefits in areas aside from sleep. It may be that it is safe to take long-term for specific conditions, but we don’t have enough information yet to confirm this.
As for magnesium, experts say that low doses in healthy individuals3 should be fine but encourage people to instead try to increase their magnesium intake through a healthy diet.
However, doctors say some sleep aid products could interfere with other medications4 you take, and there is still much to learn about how safe they are. Always speak to your doctor before adding in a sleep aid, even if it is natural.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a powerful nutrient5, present in a variety of foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, beans, potatoes, rice, bananas, and more. This nutrient is important because it regulates muscles and nerves, blood sugar, blood pressure, and makes protein, bone, and DNA5.
Magnesium may also help regulate your body’s melatonin production6.
How Does a Magnesium Supplement Work?
Magnesium can be used to treat a variety of issues. There are several different types of magnesium7, including magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, magnesium chloride, and more. Magnesium oxide8 seems to be the best for treating constipation, whereas magnesium chloride seems to work well for people with fibromyalgia9 or sore muscles.
For sleep, however, the types of magnesium that seem to be the best are magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate because they are both easily absorbed6.
Magnesium aids sleep by acting on certain receptors in the brain called “benzodiazepine receptors.” This is the same receptor that drugs like Ambien and Valium work on to create a feeling of relaxation, and magnesium seems to relax both the mind and the body6.
A 2016 study10 found that intake of this supplement was able to reduce stress levels and could help with bedtime disorders and restlessness, as well as irritability, lack of concentration, anxiety, and depression.
Check Out Our Guide: Best Magnesium Supplements for Sleep
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland in response to darkness and is part of the body’s sleep cycle. Levels of this hormone become higher at night11 to make you sleepy as it gets dark.
Recent studies are uncovering melatonin’s other important roles in the body. For example, this hormone also appears to play a role in puberty onset, hormonal regulation, memory, inflammation, mental health disorders, and more2. However, research on this is ongoing.
How Does a Melatonin Supplement Work?
Although the body naturally produces more melatonin at night to facilitate sleepiness, some people who struggle to sleep may try to increase their melatonin levels through supplements.
For example, shift workers who go to bed when it is light outside may need help telling their body it’s time to sleep since this schedule goes against the natural circadian rhythm. If you’re traveling across time zones and your circadian rhythm is still “on your home time,” you might need melatonin to help you adjust to your destination’s dark and light cycles. Additionally, many who simply struggle to sleep in general may find melatonin helps them doze off.
Health experts suggest only taking 1-3 milligrams of this supplement two hours before your bedtime11. For those who want to alleviate jet lag, you should take melatonin one or two hours prior to your destination bedtime beginning several days before your trip11.
View Our Guide: Best Melatonin Supplements
What Effects Do These Supplements Have on Our Body Functions?
The human body has a natural way of operating, and by adding a supplement, you could manipulate those processes.
Circadian Rhythm refers to your body’s mental, physical, and behavioral changes in a 24-hour cycle, and these rhythms are regulated by biological clocks in our brain and organs. For example, being awake during the day and asleep at night is a circadian rhythm.
Magnesium plays an important part in making sure all those biological clocks are ticking smoothly, while melatonin helps regulate your sleep-wake circadian rhythm. Supplements are sought as a possible way to adjust these cycles or make them more efficient.
Magnesium is vital to the nervous system because it controls the cells responsible for functioning, moving, thinking, and emotion. This mineral is also connected to the part of the brain that copes with stress. Research shows these supplements may help lower stress – a condition linked to insomnia.
According to research, melatonin has been found to be effective at protecting the central nervous system from neurological issues like brain injuries or degeneration. It is possible increased exposure may improve this capability, but that is not conclusive.
Melatonin supplements do not act as a sedative, but rather help regulate your sleep cycle. This is why it could be especially helpful for travelers or those who word overnights because it can help adjust your internal clock.
Magnesium, however, can work in two ways. The first is to better regulate melatonin production, which as we have discussed, promotes rest. The second is that it helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system responsible for relaxing you.
Overdosing Side Effects
Since these products are classified as supplements, they are not regulated by the FDA and are recommended as temporary aids, not permanent fixes. Possible side effects of melatonin include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness. There are some studies out there showing a possible link between high dosages and infertility, but this needs to be further researched.
Excessive amounts of magnesium from supplements have been reported to cause diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping.
Learn More: Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
Which One is Better for Your Sleep?
Experts say melatonin has been shown to help people fall asleep more quickly, while another study suggests it could increase REM – or rapid eye movement. This type of rest is when we are most likely to dream and is part of a healthy sleep cycle.
A study on the sleep effects of magnesium found that the supplement improved people’s insomnia severity index, sleep efficiency, rest time and onset latency, and early morning awakening.
Get More Info: Best Natural Sleep Aids
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take magnesium and melatonin at the same time?
In a 2011 study, residents in a long-term care facility were given nightly doses of both, along with zinc. This research saw improvement in overall sleep using both supplements. Another study from 2019 used a magnesium-melatonin-vitamin B complex to treat insomnia patients and saw an improvement.
Both studies suggest it may be possible to take both. However, it is best to consult with your doctor to determine if it’s healthy to take both at the same time, especially if you take other medications as these supplements may interact with them.
The growing interest in these supplements as potential sleep remedies is understandable considering there’s emerging research out there that suggests both may help you rest better.
Despite the fact that melatonin and magnesium are naturally found in the body, you should still take low, recommended doses to avoid over-usage.
While getting a good night’s rest is crucial to living a healthy life, these products and any other over-the-counter or prescribed aids should be used as temporary solutions. In the event your insomnia becomes chronic, it is best to seek the help of a healthcare professional.