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Can I Take Magnesium for Restless Leg Syndrome? Sleep MD's Advice

Woman taking magnesium supplement for restless leg syndrome

Quick Summary

  • Magnesium may help with restless leg syndrome, but research shows mixed results, often from small or low-quality studies. It might only be beneficial for mild-to-moderate symptoms or if you have a magnesium deficiency. 
  • More effective treatments include iron supplements, exercise, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and medications like dopaminergic and anti-seizure drugs. 
  • Getting more sleep can also improve your symptoms. The RISE app can help by telling you how much sleep you need, and guiding you through daily habits that make it easier to fall and stay asleep despite RLS symptoms.

It’s thought that about 11% of people have restless leg syndrome (RLS). If that’s you, you’ll know the tingling and crawling sensations and overwhelming urge to move your legs at night can make sleep much harder to get. 

Magnesium supplements are often recommended, but research into them doesn’t really support their effectiveness as an RLS treatment. 

Below, we dive into research on magnesium for restless leg syndrome, more evidence-backed treatments for RLS, and how the RISE app can help you fall and stay asleep — whether you decide to try magnesium or not.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“Magnesium deficiency is one cause of restless leg syndrome and supplements can reduce symptoms for some people, so I do recommend magnesium among other treatments,” says Dr. Chester Wu, Rise Science sleep advisor, medical reviewer, and double board-certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“As well as magnesium, you can try iron supplements, regular exercise, getting more sleep, and medications like pramipexole and ropinirole. Speak to your healthcare provider to find out the best treatments for you.”

Can Magnesium Treat Restless Leg Syndrome? 

Anecdotal evidence and some studies suggest magnesium may help reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome by helping your muscles relax. But overall, there isn’t enough research supporting the supplement as an effective treatment for RLS. 

Magnesium may help some people with RLS due to the placebo effect. And the studies we have so far are often small, inconclusive, very old, or aren’t high quality. 

For example, a 2019 systematic review looked at eight studies on magnesium for RLS and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). One study in the review didn’t find any benefit of magnesium and the overall results were inconclusive. 

The researchers said, “It is not clear whether magnesium helps relieve RLS or PLMD or in which patient groups any benefit might be seen.”

Heads-up: RLS and PLMD are similar sleep disorders and often occur together. 

  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): RLS is a nerve condition that causes feelings of tingling, crawling, or burning. You’ll get an urge to move your legs and movement makes the sensations temporarily go away. You might feel RLS symptoms more often in the evening or at night or after resting or a lack of movement. It’s not clear what causes RLS, but it may be caused by a magnesium deficiency, iron deficiency, or genetics. 
  • Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD): With PLMD, you experience repetitive and periodic leg movements (and sometimes arm movements, too) during sleep. You might twitch or jerk uncontrollably, disrupting your sleep. 

When it does help, magnesium may treat restless leg syndrome by relaxing your muscles and regulating calcium, which can activate your nerves and cause muscle contractions. 

Magnesium plays a role in muscle and nerve function and regulates the transportation of the electrolytes calcium and potassium into your cells. Electrolyte imbalances can cause muscle cramps too.

And magnesium deficiency may be a direct cause of RLS. Magnesium levels in the blood of people with RLS are sometimes lower than those without RLS — and the lower the magnesium levels, the worse the symptoms. 

Recent studies are promising, but more research is still needed. 

In a 2022 study on 75 people with RLS, participants were given either 250 milligrams (mg) of magnesium oxide, 40mg of vitamin B6, or a placebo daily for two months. 

There wasn’t any change after one month of treatment. But after two months, RLS severity and sleep quality improved for all groups. Magnesium was the most effective followed by vitamin B6.

Magnesium is generally assumed to help with RLS only if you have mild-to-moderate symptoms or a magnesium deficiency, but this has not been conclusively proven.

For now, there are more science-backed treatments for RLS than magnesium. We’ll get into those soon. 

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Magnesium May Help Other Sleep and Health Problems 

Magnesium may not help always with RLS, but there’s research showing it may help other sleep and health problems like: 

  • Insomnia
  • Leg cramps at night for some 
  • Night sweats for some
  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Low energy
  • Migraines 

We cover more on how magnesium makes you tired and sleepy here.

If you decide to try magnesium for restless leg syndrome, get medical advice to make sure it’s safe for you and to find out which type and how much to take. 

RISE can help you build the habit of taking magnesium. 

You can get a reminder when it’s time to start your bedtime routine, which can include popping a magnesium supplement. Customize when you get this reminder and get notified on your phone, iPad, or Apple Watch.

RISE app screenshot showing how to personalize your evening wind-down activities
RISE can help you remember to take magnesium before bed.

What Type of Magnesium Is Best for Restless Leg Syndrome?

There isn’t a specific type of magnesium that’s best for restless leg syndrome. Despite magnesium being marketed as a treatment for RLS, research on its effectiveness is limited.

Studies typically use magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate, but these aren’t necessarily recommendations for the general public. 

Dr. Wu usually recommends magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, or magnesium glycinate to improve sleep problems in general. 

Your healthcare provider can let you know which type of magnesium is best for you.

We dive more into the best types of magnesium and when to take magnesium here. 

How Much Magnesium to Take for Restless Leg Syndrome?

There isn’t a recommended amount of magnesium to take for restless leg syndrome as more research is needed on magnesium as a potential treatment. 

For sleep in general, Dr. Wu recommends:

  • 200 to 400 mg of magnesium glycinate
  • 250 to 500 mg of magnesium citrate
  • 400 to 500 mg of magnesium oxide

Start with a low dose and only increase it if needed and if you’re not experiencing any side effects.

We share how much magnesium to take for sleep here, including what the research says about how much to take for depression, anxiety, menopause, and exercise performance. 

It’s also unclear whether increasing dietary magnesium could help reduce symptoms of RLS. It may be worth a try as nearly 50% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium from food.

Magnesium-rich foods include: 

  • Leafy green vegetables 
  • Legumes like lentils and chickpeas 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Whole grains  
  • Fortified cereals 

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How to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome 

Magnesium may be an effective treatment for RLS for some people. But there are other ways to treat RLS if magnesium doesn’t work for you. Natural treatments are typically a first-line choice for managing mild RLS symptoms. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may also need medication.

Talk to your healthcare provider to find the best treatment plan for you — it may involve more than one treatment.

Here’s what they may suggest.

Iron Supplements

Research shows people with RLS have lower iron levels in their brains, and iron supplementation is often a first-line treatment for restless leg syndrome. 

Speak to your healthcare provider to find out if you have an iron deficiency and whether iron supplements could help. They may recommend oral supplements or intravenous supplementation.

Vitamin B6

In the 2022 study we mentioned earlier, vitamin B6 supplements improved both RLS symptoms and sleep quality. 

Low vitamin B levels — especially vitamin B6 levels — may be another cause of RLS.

Regular Exercise

Regular activity has a long list of health benefits — and reducing RLS may be one of them. 

Research shows exercise can help reduce RLS symptoms. One study found resistance exercise that progressively gets harder could reduce the severity of RLS symptoms by a whopping 58%. 

Even gentle physical movement can help. Walking, swimming, stretching, and even self-massage can help reduce RLS symptoms.

Just be sure to avoid vigorous exercise too close to bedtime. This could keep you awake and it can even trigger RLS symptoms in some people or make them worse. 

RISE can tell you when it’s best to avoid exercise. 

RISE app screenshot telling you when to avoid workouts
RISE can tell you when it’s best to avoid workouts.

Cut Down on Caffeine and Alcohol and Quit Smoking

Caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol can trigger RLS symptoms for some people. Try cutting down or avoiding them completely to see if your RLS improves. 

Bonus: Cutting down on, or quitting, coffee, smoking, and alcohol can also improve your sleep. 

As a general rule of thumb: 

RISE can tell you when it’s best to stop drinking coffee and alcohol for your body. 

Get More Sleep  

Sleep deprivation can make RLS symptoms worse, so it’s a cruel twist of fate that RLS can cause sleep deprivation to begin with. 

To help keep your symptoms in check, try lowering your sleep debt. This is the amount of sleep you owe your body. 

If RLS keeps you up at night, you can pay back some sleep debt by taking short afternoon naps. Going to bed a little earlier or sleeping in a little later can also help you lower your sleep debt. 

RISE works out how much sleep debt you have and helps you pay it back.

Heads-up: Sleep debt is compared against how much sleep you personally need. This is known as your sleep need and it may be higher than you think. 

We looked at 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up and found 48% needed eight hours of sleep or more — and some needed 11 hours 30 minutes of sleep! 

RISE can work out how much sleep you need.

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need
RISE users’ sleep needs.

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

To help you get more sleep, try improving your sleep hygiene. These are the daily habits that help you fall and stay asleep, making it easier to get the best sleep you can with RLS. 

And since RLS symptoms often get worse in the evening or at night, maintaining good sleep hygiene is even more important to make sure nothing else disturbs your sleep. 

Good sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Getting at least 10 minutes of natural light first thing each morning
  • Avoiding bright light about 90 minutes before bed 
  • Avoiding RLS triggers — like caffeine, alcohol, and vigorous exercise — close to bedtime
  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule 
  • Taking time to relax and unwind before bed (stress can be another RLS trigger for some). Try taking a hot bath or shower, reading, or practicing yoga or meditation 

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors at a time that’ll make them most effective for you. 

Looking for sleep supplements? We’ve compared magnesium vs. melatonin for sleep here. 

RISE app screenshot showing you sleep hygiene habit reminders
RISE tells you when to do daily good sleep hygiene habits.

Medication for RLS 

Depending on how severe your RLS is and whether more natural treatments have helped, your doctor may recommend medication. 

RLS Medications include: 

  • Anti-seizure drugs: These medications are a first-line prescription drug for RLS. For example, gabapentin enacarbil is approved by the FDA to treat moderate to severe RLS symptoms.
  • Dopaminergic medications: These meds increase the amount of dopamine in your brain. They may make symptoms worse in the long run, though, so you may only be prescribed them for short-term relief. FDA-approved dopaminergic medications for RLS include ropinirole, rotigotine, and pramipexole. 
  • Opioids: If you have severe RLS symptoms and other medications aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe opioids like methadone, hydrocodone, or codeine.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines like clonazepam and oxycodone can help reduce muscle spasms, anxiety, and insomnia caused by RLS. As they’re used as sleeping pills, they can help you get more sleep in the short term. But they also come with the risk of rebound insomnia (when your sleep gets worse when you stop taking the drug) and addiction. 

Magnesium for Restless Leg Syndrome: It May Not Be That Helpful 

Magnesium may help reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome for some people. But research on the supplement doesn’t back it up as an effective treatment. 

Speak to your healthcare about getting your magnesium levels tested. They may recommend magnesium or other treatment options, like iron supplements, exercise, or medications. 

If you’re looking for more natural treatments, lowering your sleep debt and improving your sleep hygiene may help. 

RISE works out your sleep debt and guides you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day to make getting enough sleep easier. 

Users see real benefits from lowering their sleep debt: 

“Since I got my sleep debt under control, I have more energy, am no longer crashing or napping, drinking less coffee, and my days feel more productive.” Read the review.

And this can happen fast — 80% of RISE users get more sleep within five days of using the app.


About Our Editorial Team

Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.

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