Can Magnesium Calm Twitchy, Restless Legs at Bedtime?
Last updated: April 2023
If you search sleep and magnesium on the Internet, you’ll discover pages and pages of claims about magnesium as a quick cure for restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
It’s tempting to consider using a single supplement like magnesium as an easy fix or affordable “cure” for twitchy legs at bedtime or overnight.
But is magnesium an easy fix? And can it live up to its promise as a sleep disorder treatment? Let’s take a closer look.
What is magnesium?
This mineral regulates body chemistry linked to the functions of muscles and nerves. It helps control blood pressure, balance blood sugar, and helps to build proteins. The human body carries about 25 grams of magnesium at any given time, half of it in the bones with the remainder stored in soft tissue.1
Meanwhile, less than 1 percent is found in the bloodstream itself. The kidneys process and excrete the body’s surplus through the urine.1 Most healthy people possess sufficient magnesium stores which they maintain through a whole foods diet.
Magnesium’s links to sleep
Magnesium performs many essential duties in the body. Among its many tasks is its partnership with gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) to promote good sleep health. GABA, an amino acid, works to calm the nervous system so you can fall asleep. Think of magnesium molecules as GABA’s chauffeurs, in that respect.
You may have heard from others about the calming effects of magnesium, and for the most part, that’s accurate. Magnesium famously calms “jumpy” muscles and the nerves that serve them. It also supports circadian function by lowering brain temperature to prepare you for sleep.2
About magnesium deficiency
You can measure blood magnesium by way of urinalysis, blood draw, or saliva test. Most deficiencies identify these chief causes:2
- Chronic health conditions (gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, as examples)
- Medication use
- Poor diet
- Chronic alcoholism
- Advanced age (magnesium malabsorption caused by kidney dysfunction)
Sleep problems may be one hint of early signs of magnesium deficiency. When magnesium dips, you may experience unexplained fatigue or muscle cramps, twitching, or soreness at bedtime.2
It’s interesting to note that chronic low magnesium contributes to certain health conditions also linked to sleep disorders:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Magnesium supplements: tips
Research on the effectiveness of supplemental magnesium is scarce and often anecdotal, but doctors still prescribe or recommend using it to treat RLS or PLMD nonetheless.3
Eating magnesium-rich foods is considered the easiest way to metabolize this mineral. Because magnesium is found in rich supply in foods, starting with these sources of magnesium first may be all you need to maintain a healthy level of the mineral in your body. Some of the best food sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, quinoa, soybeans, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, brown rice, whole wheat bread, avocado, oatmeal, banana, dark chocolate, fish, and beets.
You may also consider taking a supplement. Recommended chelated forms include magnesium citrate, magnesium ascorbate, magnesium orotate, magnesium glycinate, or a combination of these. Beware: some people are more sensitive to the citrate form. Meanwhile, others find the glycinate form offers the fewest side effects.4
The recommended daily amount of elemental magnesium in a supplement form is between 200 to 400 mg daily for adults. Taking it at bedtime should benefit sleep. Some doctors recommend taking magnesium as a separate supplement rather than relying on the dose in a multivitamin supplement.2,4
You can take too much magnesium in an oral supplement, however. Side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. If this is the case, a spray or gel form of magnesium applied topically at bedtime to a key area, like the calves or arches of the feet, may be a safer, more comfortable way to supplement with magnesium.
Another pleasant way to enjoy supplementing with magnesium is through the use of Epsom salts for baths or foot soaks. Epsom salts is another name for magnesium sulfate. (Hint: If you’ve heard you should sleep with a bar of soap under a fitted sheet, this is why — soap contains magnesium which may treat your feet topically in this way.)4
Should you supplement?
The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation strongly recommends that people with RLS seek magnesium treatment under a doctor’s care.5
While over-the-counter magnesium is generally recognized as safe (GRAS), you can still get too much of a good thing. Very high doses of magnesium (more than 5,000 mg daily) can lead to magnesium toxicity, which can threaten kidney health.1
For those with RLS or PLMD who suspect they’re deficient in magnesium, a simple lab test and symptom review can guide your best treatment plan moving forward.
Do you find that what you eat or drink impacts your RLS symptoms?