Magnesium is a crucial mineral to every organ in the body. The heart and kidneys need it, your teeth and bones rely on it, it affects enzyme production and energy levels, and it regulates calcium absorption as well as many other nutrients.  (1)

Most of us don’t get as much magnesium from our diets as we should. Foods rich in magnesium are those healthy foods many of us avoid, like whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.  

It’s rare to have a true magnesium deficiency, but certain conditions such as gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis can upset the body’s magnesium balance. RLS, along with insomnia in general, may be a symptom of magnesium deficiency.  (2)

Both anecdotal evidence and a few scientific studies support the use of magnesium as helping with RLS. The Romanian Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry did biochemical and neurological tests on 10 RLS sufferers and found a pattern of insomnia similar to other forms of insomnia caused by magnesium deficiency.  (2) 

Supporting this finding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota found that magnesium plays a key role in the body chemistry that regulates sleep. They found that people who suffer from long-term insomnia or who have abnormal brain waves during sleep are often deficient in magnesium. They tested 12 elderly people and discovered that magnesium helped them fall asleep more quickly and improved their sleep quality. The same finding was repeated with 11 alcoholic subjects.  (2)

Some holistic doctors swear by the use of magnesium to relieve RLS. Carolyn Dean, MD, medical director for the Nutritional Magnesium Association, who specializes in nutrition and health issues, says, “The best treatment is with any form of magnesium because magnesium relaxes muscles and nerves. Furthermore, calcium causes contraction in skeletal muscle fibers, and magnesium causes relaxation. When there is too much calcium and insufficient magnesium inside a cell, you can get sustained muscle contraction: twitches, spasms, and even convulsions. Magnesium permits a small amount of calcium to enter a nerve cell, just enough to allow electrical transmission along the nerves to and from the brain, then forces it back outside. Too much calcium, without the balancing effect of magnesium, can irritate delicate nerve cells of the brain. Cells that are irritated by calcium fire electrical impulses repeatedly, depleting their energy stores and causing cell death.  (5)

Anecdotal Evidence

Much of the evidence for the effectiveness of magnesium when it comes to RLS is anecdotal. (3) “I have been taking magnesium and it really does help. My doc won’t let me take any drugs because I’m trying to get pregnant so he recommended magnesium. I take two 150 mg pills each night after dinner to give it some time to work before I sleep.  It has been working wonders.”

—jinx2418, Healthboards (3)

“Magnesium works because RLS is a magnesium deficiency. Anyway I used to take 500 mg twice a day, then after about 6 months, I took 500 mg once a day and now I take 250 mg a night.”

—Michelle12,  Healthboards (3)

“I have just started taking magnesium for my RLS and it is amazing. I have very little problems with it now. I would suggest anyone try it.”

—bootscoot, Healthboards (3)

“I don’t take magnesium every night, but only when I feel symptoms once or twice a week, so an 8 oz. jar of magnesium will last me several months at a time. I simply add 3 scoops of powdered magnesium to a half glass of hot water, let the magnesium dissolve and then add a little cool juice for taste (and to cool the water) and sleep like a baby afterwards.”

—Laura Sands, Yahoo Contributor Network (4)

How to Take It

If you want to up the magnesium in your diet, eat a lot of whole grains, oatmeal, and bran cereals. Baked potatoes and green leafy vegetables are good magnesium sources, and so is tofu and anything made with soybean flour. Nuts and seeds have many vitamins and minerals, magnesium among them; in particular: almonds, cashews, pumpkin and squash seeds, black walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts. Chocolate is a good source, and so are bananas. Many herbs and spices are rich in magnesium, including coriander, dill, celery seed, sage, basil, fennel, tarragon, and marjoram.  (1)

Take a B vitamin complex or a multivitamin with magnesium, because the level of vitamin B6 in the body determines how much magnesium the body absorbs. (1)

Magnesium can be taken as a magnesium citrate powder, pills, Epsom salts baths, or magnesium oil as a transdermal application.  (5)

Here are the recommended magnesium levels for adults according to the University of Maryland Medical Center: (1)  Ask your doctor if you should take more (or less) to treat your RLS.

  • Men 19-30: 400 mg daily
  • Women 19-30:  310 mg daily
  • Men over 31: 420 mg daily
  • Women over 31: 320 mg daily
  • Pregnant women:  350-360 mg daily
  • Breastfeeding women:  310-320 daily