I'm not sure about you, but I've been a sh*tty sleeper for a good eight years and unfortunately, my sleep hasn't improved one bit. Whenever I have conversations with my friends and my grandma (because she knows everything), they always recommend natural supplements like melatonin or magnesium for better sleep. I typically err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to trendy supplements, which is why I reached out to Emmanuel During, MD, a board-certified neurologist in sleep medicine at Stanford Health Care to find out if magnesium, melatonin, or neither can help improve sleep.
Does Magnesium Help You Sleep Better?
"Maybe magnesium has some properties, but we just don't know. It has barely been studied," Dr. During told POPSUGAR. Most of the purported benefits seem to be anecdotal at this point, being that there are no objective measures, according to Dr. During. And to his knowledge, there haven't been any sleep studies that analyze the effects of magnesium on sleep. Although magnesium may help some people sleep better, when it comes to the literature, there is currently no substantive research to support this claim. "It's not a bad candidate for a sleep aid but we just don't know enough. We need more objective measures, replication, and independent teams before we make a statement," Dr. During explained.
Does Melatonin Help You Sleep Better?
Melatonin is another common sleep aid you've probably heard people tout, and according to Dr. During, the benefits and effects have been tracked by researchers for years. He explained that there are two effects that can occur depending on the dosage with the first being a sedative effect that helps you fall asleep. This effect typically occurs with doses greater than the natural dose your body produces. According to Dr. During, if you consume anywhere from three to 10 milligrams of melatonin at a time, you should begin to feel a drowsy effect within 20 to 30 minutes.
The second effect occurs when melatonin is taken in smaller doses. Dr. During explained that doses of one milligram and less have an effect on your circadian rhythm, which influences important bodily functions like sleep-wake cycles and digestion. "Around two to three hours before you usually fall asleep, your brain will naturally start to secrete melatonin but only if the environment is somewhat dim," he said. This low, natural dose won't put you to sleep but it will alert your brain that it's time to sleep. This dosage can help you stay on a sleep schedule and it can be helpful for those who often travel across different time zones, preventing jet lag. If you're unsure about taking melatonin for the long-term, Dr. During said that there doesn't seem to be any harmful long-term effects, but as always, it's best to speak to a qualified professional about your health concerns.
Other Ways to Improve Your Sleep
If you aren't too fond of taking supplements and want to weigh your options, Dr. During recommends waking up around the same time every day; exercising 45 to 60 minutes every day — or at least three hours a week — to increase deep, restorative, slow-wave sleep; eating healthy food; avoiding having heavy dinners and alcohol; and unwinding 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime to allow your brain time to turn off.
If you're still up in the air about whether or not you should begin to use magnesium or melatonin as a sleep aid or you've been experiencing long-term sleep problems, we recommend speaking with a primary care physician or a sleep specialist who can provide you with more information and medical guidance.