Magnesium vs Melatonin: Which Is Better for Sleep?

Some of us need help falling asleep, while some need help staying asleep, and others need help with both. We hear magnesium and melatonin supplements thrown around a lot as possible solutions, and while they’re easy to conflate, they’re actually quite different and have distinctive benefits.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral responsible for hundreds of body processes, chief among them energy production, bone structure, synthesis of DNA and RNA, muscle contraction and normal heart rhythms, says HUM’s VP of scientific affairs, Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PhD. Due to this, a low intake of magnesium, which affects half of Americans, can result in conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis,  she notes.

Magnesium is related to sleep because it’s also responsible for relaxation, sleep and neurotransmitter function, says founder of Moon Juice, Amanda Chantal Bacon. “Magnesium is the primary mineral to relax the body and mind. It enhances our levels of inhibitory hormone GABA, which calms the central nervous system,” explains top Australian sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo. “As a result, it has a huge benefit for those with anxiety—clinical evidence indicates four weeks of magnesium supplementation can reduce anxiety by 31 percent.”

Since magnesium is so closely connected with these processes, consuming enough is “essential for high-quality sleep,” says pediatric and adult sleep coach Kelly Murray, which we know most Americans are not achieving. A recent review of clinical studies found “a positive effect of magnesium supplementation on time spent asleep and overall sleep quality,” notes Dr. Martin-Biggers. Additionally, low magnesium intake tends to be associated with lower levels of melatonin, which can disrupt sleep cycles. It’s worth noting there are different forms of magnesium. Some forms absorb more easily in the body, and some have different effects. It’s important to discuss with your doctor which is best for your needs.

What is melatonin?

“Melatonin is a hormone that regulates circadian rhythm by signaling to the brain when it’s time to sleep,” explains Chantal Bacon. Melatonin is, in part, in charge of encouraging the onset of sleepiness, says Arezzolo. “Normally, it naturally rises in the evening and naturally falls in the morning; this pattern reflects the natural day-night cycle. Melatonin is suppressed by light, which means with bright light, we naturally don’t feel tired. This is helpful, as it’s typically during the day,” Arezzolo explains.

Issues with melatonin production are more common now as we’re surrounded by the artificial lights from phones, TVs, computers, and even overhead lighting. These lights “mimic the suppressive effects of natural light, and therefore, we don’t have the biological drive to sleep in the evening,” explains Arezzolo.

Many clinical studies confirm that melatonin supplementation can improve sleep quality, especially falling asleep faster, in those with and without sleep difficulties, says Dr. Martin-Biggers. However, studies show mixed results in those who have sleep disorders like chronic insomnia, so we suggest speaking with an expert in that case.

Should I take magnesium or melatonin?

While at first glance, magnesium and melatonin may seem similar at the root, they have different functions. “Melatonin is a hormone, and magnesium is an element,” points out Dr. Martin-Biggers. She notes the biggest difference is that melatonin is more effective at helping you fall asleep faster, while magnesium promotes overall relaxation and time spent asleep.

“The primary distinction between the two lies in their mechanisms. Magnesium indirectly aids sleep by promoting relaxation and stress reduction, while melatonin directly influences the sleep-wake cycle,” says Murray. Both are necessary in sufficient quantities to obtain high-quality sleep. However, choosing which to supplement depends on your personal needs, she explains. “Magnesium might better suit those experiencing stress-related sleep disturbances, while melatonin could be more appropriate for those struggling to initiate sleep or needing to regulate their sleep patterns due to jet lag, circadian rhythm disorders and shift work.” Dr. Martin-Biggers adds that “melatonin production in the body decreases with age so it may be particularly helpful for older adults.”

Since most of the U.S. is deficient in magnesium, we “should supplement magnesium daily and melatonin situationally,” says Chantal Bacon. She explains that “supplementing melatonin is only necessary when you need help telling the brain it’s time for bed—due jet lag, accidentally jacking up on late night blue light, postpartum, or even viruses.” Arezzolo notes that melatonin is not necessarily designed for long-term use, but it’s extremely effective in shifting a sleep pattern. Key signs of magnesium deficiency include anxiety, restlessness and poor sleep, says Arrezzolo, so she also suggests supplementing magnesium daily.

Products to try

“Before starting any supplement regime, it’s necessary to speak to your health professional first,” notes Arrezzolo. Moon Juice offers two formulas that harness magnesium’s benefits. Magnesi-Om ($42) is for your everyday nightcap with three bioavailable kinds of magnesium and L-Theanine. The brand new Sleepy Magnesi-Om for situational support featuring a microdose of Phytomelatonin, two bioavailable kinds of magnesium and L-Theanine. Other popular daily magnesium products include Thorne Magnesium CitraMate ($18) and Recess Mood Magnesium Superblend ($39).

Dr. Martin-Biggers says the dosage of HUM Beauty zzZz ($10) is safe and shown to be effective. Ritual Sleep BioSeries Melatonin ($25), Love Wellness Sleeping Beauty ($25), Lemme Sleep Sleep Tight Gummies ($30) and Beam Dream ($75) and CBDMD PM Softgel Capsules ($50) are also great products with melatonin to look into.

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