An MD Weighs In On When To Take Melatonin vs. Magnesium
In a time when sleep can be hard to come by, many of us are reaching for reinforcements. When it comes to sleep aids, magnesium and melatonin are two of the most popular options.* While both can be effective, they work in different ways.* During a recent virtual mbg masterclass, functional medicine doctor and expert in all things sleep Robert Rountree, M.D., weighed in on when he recommends taking one over the other. Here's the sleep scoop:
Take melatonin for: Falling asleep at a time that your body isn't used to.*
Melatonin is a hormone that our body naturally sends out based on lighting cues, which is why it's often referred to as the "hormone of darkness."
"Melatonin is a signal for the brain that it's time to go to sleep," Rountree said. "It doesn't knock you out. It doesn't make you sleep. It simply tells the brain this is the time to go to sleep."*
This means that supplemental forms of the hormone can be good for people who have variable sleep schedules and need to fall asleep at wonky hours from time to time (hence why it's so popular for jet lag1 and night working).* By that logic, if you wake up in the middle of the night and need to fall back asleep, Rountree says that taking a small dose of melatonin (0.5 to 1.5 milligrams) may also help.*
Basically, this supplement lays the groundwork by telling our bodies that it's time for bed—even if our outside environment says otherwise.* Once it sends this signal, though, its job is done. It doesn't do much in the way of improving sleep quality, which is part of why some people report feeling groggy and sleepy in the morning after taking it (and also because they take too much melatonin too often). "It's not that great for people who are just poor sleepers," Rountree explained.
Take magnesium for: Nightly sleep support.*
Compared to melatonin, Rountree says that magnesium is more helpful for supporting overall sleep quality.* Early research suggests that the mineral can kick-start hours of calm and relaxation—especially when it's combined in the chelate complex format with the amino acid glycine (i.e., magnesium bisglycinate).*
"Magnesium helps to calm 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,"* Rountree told mbg.*
So while melatonin is a quick signal to go to bed, magnesium is more of a steady, long-lasting sleep enhancer.* It's what you'll find in mbg's sleep support+ supplement, which has quickly become a bestseller for its ability to help people not only fall asleep but stay asleep through the night and wake up feeling refreshed.* Taking the targeted formula of magnesium bisglycinate, PharmaGABA®, and jujube 1-2 hours before bedtime can send the body into sleep mode—and keep it there until the next morning, reviewers say.*
The bottom line.
While melatonin is great at sending a signal to the body that it's time to go to sleep, magnesium picks up where it leaves off and helps promote high-quality rest.* Melatonin is a good supplement to have in your back pocket if you're traveling to a new time zone or need to pick up a night shift, and magnesium tends to be better for nightly use.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.