Is melatonin or magnesium a better sleep supplement?

As we age, our sleep patterns change, often making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Many people will begin to fall asleep later, wake up earlier and experience poorer quality sleep.

On sleepless nights, many people turn to the medicine cabinet to help them get some much needed shut eye. But which sleeping aid is best can depend on a number of factors.

Melatonin and magnesium are popular supplements that work in very different ways. Melatonin has long been a popular sleep aid, with sales skyrocketing between 2007 and 2012, and supportive research dating back to the ’90s. In more recent years, magnesium has made a name for itself in many households as a pre-emptive sleep aid, however, there has been less research to document its effects.

When it’s time for your body to begin winding down at night, your brain will produce a hormone called melatonin. Being around bright lights or looking at screens before bedtime can confuse the brain’s natural rhythms and delay or disrupt melatonin production.

Melatonin can be taken as a supplement to help you get to sleep faster. However, it has not been shown to improve sleep quality or duration, so some people will find that they still wake up groggy after taking it before bed. It has been proven to help people cope with jetlag, irregular sleep schedules and circadian-rhythm-related sleep disorders.

Dr Robert Rountree told MindBodyGreen, “Melatonin does one thing very well, which is provide a specific signal to the brain that it is time to initiate the sleep process. It isn’t so great for maintaining sleep.”

When it comes to using melatonin as a sleep aid, it is used by many travellers who have to frequently deal with time zone changes. The recommended dosage of melatonin is between 0.5mg and 5mg and is most effective when taken an hour before you intend to go to sleep. Melatonin supplements should only be taken as needed and directed.

Magnesium is a mineral that is produced by your body but is available in many different types of supplements. A combination of magnesium and the amino acid glycine, known as magnesium glycinate, is known to improve sleep quality and calm the brain, though different types of magnesium target different areas of the body.

The use of magnesium as a sleep supplement has been less thoroughly researched than melatonin. However, one study conducted with elderly participants found that magnesium supplements helped them to sleep more deeply and for longer periods of time.

“Magnesium helps to calm down the central nervous system, which helps to prepare the brain to turn off and also to keep it functioning at a calmer level throughout the night,” said Dr Rountree. Magnesium is a mineral, and not a hormone like melatonin, so it can be taken more regularly without interfering with the body. For these reasons, it is often preferred by people looking for a consistent sleep aid that helps with both the quality and quantity of sleep they receive.

When you can’t fall asleep at night, what do you do to help fall asleep? Do you take any sleeping aids? If so, which do you prefer?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner


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