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Magnesium vs. Melatonin for Sleep: How to Choose

Magnesium and melatonin may improve sleep in different contexts, but you may not need either supplement. Speak to a doctor to find out which is best for you.
Published
2024-05-28
Updated
11 MINS
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.
Magnesium or melatonin: Woman deciding which supplement to take before sleep

Magnesium vs. Melatonin: Which Is Best? 

  • Both magnesium and melatonin may improve your sleep, but in different ways. What works best for you depends on your sleep issue. You may find neither work (e.g. if you have certain sleep disorders) and you may not need a supplement at all. 
  • Magnesium may improve the sleep of those with a magnesium deficiency, insomnia, anxiety, or restless leg syndrome. Melatonin can help with the timing of sleep and works best for those wanting to shift their sleep schedule, like when getting over jet lag or sleeping when your natural melatonin levels are low (like a shift worker trying to sleep during the day). More research is needed to know the best dose, timing, and long-term effects of each supplement. 
  • It’s safe to take magnesium and melatonin together and you can buy supplements that combine the two into one tablet.
  • The RISE app can help you sleep, whether you decide on magnesium, melatonin, or no supplements at all. RISE guides you through 20+ daily sleep hygiene behaviors proven to help you fall and stay asleep.

Magnesium and melatonin are both supplements that could improve your sleep, but which one should you choose and can you take them together to get more benefits? 

There’s not much solid guidance on the supplements, but we dive into the science to compare magnesium and melatonin. Plus, we share how the RISE app can help you fall and stay asleep without taking any supplements at all.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“Which supplement I recommend depends on my patients' specific sleep issues. Magnesium is often preferable to melatonin, which is only effective in certain situations and for brief periods,” says Dr. Chester Wu, Rise Science sleep advisor, medical reviewer, and double board-certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“I generally suggest magnesium for conditions like restless leg syndrome or if a patient has low magnesium levels, which can impact sleep. Melatonin may be helpful for overcoming jet lag or adjusting sleep schedules.”

Does Magnesium or Melatonin Work Better for Sleep? 

Magnesium and melatonin may both improve sleep. But they address different concerns and work in different ways, so the best supplement for you depends on your sleep issues. 

You might find you don’t need either supplement and something like good sleep hygiene works better (more on this soon). Or you might find neither supplement solves your issues if you have a sleep disorder, for example. Plus, good sleep looks different for everyone, so there’s no clear winner when it comes to the best sleep supplement. 

When To Choose Magnesium

If you want to take a supplement, magnesium may be your best bet as magnesium deficiency is common and is linked to sleep problems. Taking magnesium can also calm anxiety — a common sleep disruptor. 

Studies suggest magnesium can improve: 

  • Sleep onset latency (how long it takes to fall asleep) 
  • Overall sleep time 
  • Sleep efficiency (how long you’re asleep after getting into bed) 
  • Early morning awakenings
  • Insomnia 
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Anxiety and depression symptoms — which can cause sleep loss

However, more research is needed. Many of the studies on magnesium are done on older adults or those with health issues, sleep disorders, or a magnesium deficiency. It’s unclear how effective magnesium is for people outside of these groups.

If you get enough magnesium from food, for example, or you’re a healthy sleeper just looking to fall asleep faster, magnesium supplementation may not be that beneficial for you. 

Beyond this, many magnesium studies are small, low quality, have contradictory findings, and use different types and amounts of magnesium, making it hard to draw solid conclusions. 

When To Choose Melatonin

Melatonin has more research behind it as a sleep aid, but it doesn’t work in the way you think. Its uses are more limited and it’s usually only taken short term.

Melatonin can help you fall and stay asleep when you usually wouldn’t, so it’s useful for: 

  • Getting over jet lag
  • Adjusting to shift work 
  • Shifting your sleep schedule 
  • Treating a circadian rhythm disorder, like delayed sleep phase disorder 

But it likely won’t help you fall asleep at your usual bedtime.

A 2013 meta-analysis found melatonin can sometimes help people with sleep disorders fall asleep faster, but only by a mere seven minutes

What else to know

There aren’t any head-to-head studies comparing magnesium to melatonin for sleep, however. This is what we know about each supplement individually.

You might find both magnesium and melatonin work for your sleep due to the placebo effect, however. Just taking a sleep supplement and believing it’ll help you sleep can make it work.

Consulting with your doctor is the best way to determine which supplement, if any, is right for you. Keep in mind, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine doesn’t recommend melatonin or magnesium for insomnia.

The final verdict: The best supplement for you depends on your sleep issues. Magnesium may work better for your sleep if you’re deficient in the mineral or have anxiety, depression, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia in some cases. Melatonin may work better for your sleep if you’re trying to shift the timing of your sleep schedule. And if you have a sleep disorder, you may need a different treatment as these supplements may not help.

If you’re looking to manage short-term troubles falling and staying asleep, it’s unclear how effective these supplements would be. More research is needed on both sleep supplements to say for sure, especially magnesium. Sleep hygiene (more on that soon) may be a better bet. Your doctor can let you know if a supplement would be helpful and, if so, which one. 

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How Does Magnesium Help You Sleep? 

Magnesium can help you sleep by: 

  • Promoting muscle relaxation
  • Increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that lowers anxiety and has calming effects on the brain 
  • Increasing the sleep hormone melatonin (the natural one your body produces)
  • Decreasing the stress hormone cortisol
  • Playing a role in regulating your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that helps to control your sleep cycle 

Magnesium has also been shown to help health issues like anxiety, depression, migraines, constipation, hot flashes, and muscle and leg cramps. Reducing symptoms related to these issues could help you sleep. 

It’s unclear what the best type of magnesium is for sleep. And there’s no best time to take magnesium or an ideal magnesium dose. In general, 350 mg a day is the recommended upper limit to avoid side effects, unless you’re advised otherwise. 

Dr. Wu usually recommends 400 to 500 mg of magnesium oxide, 250 to 500 mg of magnesium citrate, or 200 to 400 mg of magnesium glycinate to his patients if they have sleep problems. He says to take a supplement about 30 minutes to one hour before bed as part of a wind-down routine. Speak to your doctor to find the best dosage for you.

We’ve covered more on the best magnesium dosage for sleep here. 

How Does Melatonin Help You Sleep? 

Melatonin can help you sleep by shifting the timing of your circadian rhythm, which is useful for getting over jet lag, and by making you sleepy when your natural melatonin levels are low (during the day), which can be useful for shift workers. 

Timing is everything when it comes to melatonin (it’s what scientists call a chronobiotic or something that adjusts the timing of your internal biological clock or circadian rhythm). 

If you take melatonin:

  • About four to five hours before bed, you’ll pull your circadian rhythm forward and feel sleepy earlier than usual.  
  • In the morning, you’ll push back your sleep-wake cycle and feel sleepy later than usual.
  • Too late at night or during the night (or take too much of it) you risk pushing your next night of sleep back.
  • Before bed, you may only get a few minutes more sleep, or not notice a difference at all. 

There are no universal guidelines on how much melatonin to take, but experts usually recommend taking 0.3 mg to 1 mg. Your doctor can let you know the best dose for you.

We’ve covered more about what melatonin does here. 

RISE can tell you the best time to take melatonin to make it more effective. 

RISE app screenshot reminding you to take melatonin supplements
RISE can tell you when to take melatonin.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their take melatonin supplements reminder here.

How to Choose Between Magnesium or Melatonin for Sleep? 

Both magnesium and melatonin could help you sleep. Which one is best for you will depend on the type of sleep problems you’re suffering from and your own biology.

Here’s what to consider when choosing between the supplements: 

Sleep Issue

  • Melatonin can help those who need to fix the timing of their sleep for jet lag, shift work, to become a morning person, or if they have a circadian rhythm disorder. 
  • Magnesium may help those with insomnia, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, depression, hot flashes, leg cramps, or sleep problems caused by magnesium deficiency. Consider getting tested for low magnesium levels. Magnesium supplements may also boost your energy if you’re deficient. More research is needed, though.

Side Effects 

  • Both supplements are considered relatively safe, but they come with potential side effects. 
  • Melatonin can cause side effects like headaches, nausea, dizziness, tiredness the next morning, and unintended daytime drowsiness. This last one can make it potentially dangerous if you’re driving or working with machinery. 
  • Magnesium shouldn’t make you tired the next day, but side effects include abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea if you take too much. 

Interactions with Medications

  • Melatonin may interact with alcohol and medications like muscle relaxers, opioid painkillers, warfarin, and sedating antihistamines like Benadryl
  • Magnesium may interact with bisphosphonates, antibiotics, diuretics, and proton pump inhibitors. 
  • Check with your doctor before taking any new supplements if you’re on medication.  

Health Conditions

  • You may not be able to take melatonin if you have certain medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, or a seizure or bleeding disorder. 
  • You may have to avoid magnesium if you have kidney disease or heart disease.
  • Both may be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but get the thumbs-up from your doctor first.

Taking it Every Night 

  • More research is needed into the long-term use of both melatonin and magnesium. 
  • It may be safe to take magnesium every night, but melatonin is usually recommended for short-term use only. 

Speak with a healthcare provider to get tailored advice on your sleep issues. Dietary supplements may not be the best treatment. If they are, a doctor can recommend the best one for you.

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Can Magnesium and Melatonin Be Taken Together? 

Yes, you can take magnesium and melatonin together. The two supplements don’t seem to have negative interactions with each other and you can even buy supplements that combine the two into one tablet. 

There isn’t much research on the combination, though. One study we have is a 2019 study that looked at how a magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B complex supplement affected people with insomnia. It found that after three months of daily supplementation, participants reported improved insomnia. 

While promising, it’s unclear if the combination of supplements was beneficial or if one supplement in the mix was more effective than the others.  

If you decide to take magnesium and melatonin together, check with a healthcare professional first to make sure the combination is safe for you. Start with a low dose of one supplement before adding in the other, so you know which causes side effects if they pop up. 

How to Fall Asleep Without Magnesium or Melatonin? 

You may not need to take melatonin, magnesium, or any other supplement to fall asleep. You can try improving your sleep hygiene instead. 

Sleep hygiene is the group of habits that are proven to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. 

If you decide to take magnesium or melatonin, good sleep hygiene can make sure nothing gets in the way of a good night’s sleep, so you can take the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time.

Here’s what to do: 

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends 
  • Get at least 10 minutes of bright light first thing each morning and as much light as possible during the day 
  • Avoid bright light about 90 minutes before bed
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, alcohol, and intense exercise too late in the day 
  • Set your bedroom up for sleep by making it cool, dark, and quiet 

Sleep hygiene habits are even more effective when you do them at the right time for your body. This is where RISE comes in. 

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits at the best time for you depending on your daily circadian rhythm. 

Having good sleep hygiene will help keep your natural melatonin levels high, especially getting and avoiding light at the right times. 

We share how to increase melatonin naturally here.

RISE app screenshot reminding you when to get and avoi bright light
RISE tells you when to get and avoid bright light.

Beyond sleep hygiene, RISE can also predict the timing of your Melatonin Window, the time of night when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. Going to bed during this roughly one-hour window of time means you harness your natural supply of the hormone to fall and stay asleep more easily.

For magnesium, you can get more magnesium from your diet. Getting more magnesium from food may be better at resolving a magnesium deficiency than taking supplements.

Magnesium-rich foods include: 

  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach 
  • Legumes like lentils and beans 
  • Nuts and seeds like cashews and pumpkin seeds
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa 
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 

Heads-up: Alongside improving your sleep hygiene, you need to know how much sleep you should be aiming for. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep — this is known as your sleep need. It varies quite a lot from person to person. 

Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found sleep needs ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes.

RISE can work out how much sleep you personally need.

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

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here and set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Is Melatonin or Magnesium Better for Sleep: The Bottom Line 

Melatonin and magnesium are both popular sleep aids, but they work in different ways for different scenarios. The best one for you depends what sleep issue you’re trying to solve, and you may not need either. 

Melatonin is best for shifting your sleep schedule (like when traveling across time zones) and magnesium is best if you have low magnesium levels (which can affect your sleep) or have conditions like depression or restless leg syndrome. Melatonin probably won’t help healthy sleepers fall and stay asleep at bedtime, and more research is needed on magnesium on this front.

RISE can help you get better sleep whatever supplement you choose — or if you choose not to take either supplement and go the natural route. The app guides you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, tells you when to harness your natural supply of melatonin, and — if you decide on melatonin supplements — the best time to take them. 

Users agree: 

“If I go to sleep according to my schedule, within my Melatonin Window, I am guaranteed to satisfy my sleep needs without any additional sleep aids, supplements, or medications.” Read the review.

And it works fast — 80% of RISE users get more sleep within five days.

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