What’s one thing that your athletes need to improve their performance, yet you and your institution / team cannot simply give to them? The answer is high-quality, adequate rest, which they need for recovery after a hard day in the gym. Ensuring restorative sleep is foundational for physiological recuperation and mental well-being, yet it remains a challenge that extends beyond the scope of typical training regimens and nutritional guidelines. This raises the question: Can magnesium, a readily available and often overlooked mineral, be the key to unlocking better sleep and, by extension, superior athletic performance? Let’s explore how this mineral might be the missing piece in the intricate puzzle of athlete recovery.

Magnesium’s role in enhancing sleep quality has garnered considerable attention within the scientific community, prompting a reevaluation of its potential benefits in athletic performance optimization. This essential mineral, integral to over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body, is hypothesized to improve sleep by regulating neurotransmitters that facilitate sleep-wake cycles and by modulating the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and calmness. This article aims to dissect the current research landscape concerning magnesium supplementation and its efficacy in improving sleep parameters among athletes, a population for whom recovery is crucial to performance. By scrutinizing empirical evidence and clinical trials, you, as strength and conditioning coaches, can have a better comprehensive understanding to inform your athletes of supplementation strategies that could potentially enhance their recovery and overall performance.

Abbasi et al. (2012) conducted a double-blind, randomized clinical trial with 46 elderly subjects divided into experimental and control groups. The experimental group was received 500 mg of magnesium daily for eight weeks, while the control group was given a placebo. The researchers assessed sleep by having participants fill out insomnia severity index questionnaires and maintain sleep logs. Physical activity was monitored, and dietary intakes were recorded. Crucially, blood samples were collected at the onset and conclusion of the trial to measure serum levels of magnesium, renin, melatonin, and cortisol—biomarkers associated with sleep regulation and stress response.

The group receiving magnesium showed significant improvements in several sleep parameters compared to the placebo group. Notably, there was an increase in sleep time and sleep efficiency, alongside a decrease in the severity of insomnia as measured by the insomnia severity index. Furthermore, the magnesium group exhibited increased levels of serum renin and melatonin, both of which are positively associated with better sleep quality. There was also a notable reduction in serum cortisol, a stress hormone, which indicates a potential reduction in stress levels due to better sleep.

Building on these findings, Nielsen et al. (2010) explored the broader implications of magnesium on low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults 51+, with poor quality sleep. This study observed the impact of 320 mg/day of magnesium supplementation over seven weeks and found that while overall sleep quality improved significantly in both the magnesium and placebo groups—hinting at a potential placebo effect—significant biochemical changes were evident only among participants with baseline magnesium deficiency. Specifically, these participants experienced increases in serum and erythrocyte magnesium levels and reductions in plasma CRP (C-Reactive Protein) levels, indicating a decrease in inflammatory stress.

Nielsen et al. (2010) also highlighted a common issue among the elderly: a significant proportion were consuming less than the recommended dietary allowance for magnesium, which was associated with higher BMI (Body Mass Index) and elevated plasma CRP concentrations. This finding underscores the potential of magnesium supplementation not only in enhancing sleep quality but also in mitigating inflammation, particularly in those initially presenting with low magnesium levels.

Further study on the effects of magnesium intake on sleep duration and quality was conducted by Zhang et al. in 2022. This study was conducted as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) research, and provided observations into the potential benefits of magnesium on sleep attributes among young adults. The study used a sample of 3,964 participants to examine how dietary and supplemental intake of magnesium, as well as the calcium-to-magnesium intake ratio, related to the quality and duration of sleep over an extended period.

Magnesium, known for its essential roles in numerous physiological processes, has been proposed to affect sleep through its interactions with the nervous system. It binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, potentially reducing nervous system excitability and promoting muscle relaxation (Watanabe et al., 2002). This relationship sparked interest in exploring magnesium’s impact on sleep within a young adult population—a group potentially more vulnerable to sleep deprivation than older adults (Conroy, 2014). 

Using data from the CARDIA study, Zhang et al. (2022) collected dietary information and sleep quality assessments at multiple time points. Participants’ magnesium intake was measured through dietary records and supplements at the study’s outset and in subsequent years, with sleep data reported 15 and 20 years after the study began. The findings revealed a moderate association between higher magnesium intake and better sleep quality. Specifically, participants in the highest quartile of magnesium intake reported slightly better sleep quality than those in the lowest quartile, although this association was only borderline significant. More pronounced was the finding that higher magnesium intake was associated with a reduced likelihood of short sleep durations (less than 7 hours), suggesting a potential role for magnesium in extending sleep duration. However, the study did not find significant results concerning the calcium-to-magnesium ratio, suggesting that the observed sleep benefits were specifically linked to magnesium intake rather than the balance of magnesium with calcium.

The benefits of magnesium on sleep were particularly noted among participants who did not suffer from depressive disorders, pointing to a potential interaction between mental health status and the effectiveness of magnesium on sleep. This differentiation underscores the complex interplay between dietary intake and psychological health in influencing sleep quality and duration. Overall, the CARDIA study’s longitudinal analysis supports the notion that increased magnesium intake could enhance sleep quality and extend sleep duration among young adults, especially those free from depressive symptoms (Zhang et al., 2022). 

The research highlighted by Abbasi et al. (2012), Nielsen et al. (2010), and Zhang et al. (2022) underscores a compelling argument for the positive impacts of magnesium supplementation on sleep quality and duration across different age groups. These studies help demonstrate that magnesium not only improves several key sleep parameters, such as sleep efficiency and insomnia severity, but also contributes to physiological changes that promote better overall health, including reduced inflammatory stress and decreased cortisol levels. Notably, the benefits of magnesium intake are particularly pronounced in individuals with deficient magnesium levels and those without depressive disorders, suggesting targeted approaches for supplementation could be particularly beneficial. However, while findings like those from Zhang et al. (2022) extend these insights into younger demographics, demonstrating potential sleep duration extension and quality improvement, they also highlight the complexity of magnesium’s effects, which can vary by psychological health status and are not necessarily influenced by the calcium-to-magnesium ratio. These findings collectively advocate for a broader recognition of magnesium’s role in enhancing sleep as a fundamental aspect of health and well-being, recommending further detailed studies to optimize supplementation strategies for various populations.

Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences17(12), 1161.

Bender, A. M., & Lambing, K. A. (2024). A practical guide to improve sleep and performance in athletes. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching19(1), 476-487.

Nielsen, F. H., Johnson, L. K., & Zeng, H. (2010). Magnesium supplementation improves indicators of low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults older than 51 years with poor quality sleep. Magnesium Research23(4), 158-168.

Zhang, Y., Chen, C., Lu, L., Knutson, K. L., Carnethon, M. R., Fly, A. D., … & Kahe, K. (2022). Association of magnesium intake with sleep duration and sleep quality: findings from the CARDIA study. Sleep45(4), zsab276.