Magnesium Treatment of Primary Alcohol-Dependent Patients During Subacute Withdrawal: An Open Pilot Study With Polysomnography


Reprint requests: Magdolna Hornyak, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital of Freiburg, Hauptstrasse 5, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany; Fax: 49-761-270-6667; E-mail:


Background: Sleep electroencephalogram alterations and insomnia complaints persist after alcohol withdrawal in dependent patients and are considered strong predictors of relapse. Although disturbances of magnesium household due to alcohol consumption are well known, the relationship of magnesium metabolism and sleep disturbances has not been investigated in this patient group. We conducted an open pilot study to evaluate the effects of magnesium treatment on the sleep of primary alcohol-dependent patients during subacute withdrawal.

Methods: Patients were treated with 30 mmol magnesium daily over 4 weeks. Eleven of the 14 included patients were evaluated. Patients were free of any kind of psychotropic medication or other substances known to influence sleep. Polysomnographic recordings with monitoring of periodic leg movements in sleep (PLMS) were performed for two consecutive nights 2 weeks after acute withdrawal (baseline) and 4 weeks later at the end of the treatment period. After the baseline polysomnography, patients were investigated by the magnesium loading test to verify magnesium depletion.

Results: We found a significant decrease of sleep onset latency from 40.6 to 21.7 min (p= 0.03) and a significant improvement of subjective sleep quality, as assessed by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, from 8.1 to 5.8 (p= 0.05) during magnesium treatment. Changes in PLMS indices revealed two subgroups of patients: one with an increase of PLMS from 30.7 to 39.4 per hour of sleep (n= 4) and the other one with a decrease of PLMS from 8.9 to 2.1 per hour of sleep (p= 0.04). Patients with PLMS decreases seemed to have a more favorable prognosis: total sleep time, γ-glutamyltransferase, carbohydrate-deficient transferrin, and Beck Depression Inventory scores improved significantly during treatment in this group. The magnesium loading test revealed a magnesium deficiency in only one patient, five patients showed normal retention values, and the remaining five patients had an increased magnesium excretion, indicating a possible continued renal magnesium loss during abstinence.

Conclusions: The results of this study should be interpreted with caution, because no control group with placebo was investigated. Both subjective and, partly, objective parameters of sleep improved during the 4-week study period. Further research is needed to clarify the relationship of magnesium metabolism and sleep alterations.