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Best Foods That Help You Sleep: 5 Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

March 31, 2024 12 min read

Best Foods That Help You Sleep: 5 Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

Discovering Foods That Help You Sleep for a Restful Night

Getting enough sleep is very important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy. It's like giving your body a break to fix itself and get ready for the next day. When we don't sleep enough, we can feel grumpy, have a hard time thinking clearly, and even get sick more easily. But it's not just about how long we sleep; it's also about how well we sleep. And guess what? What we eat can make a big difference in how good our sleep is.

Now, let's talk about the magic of certain foods that can actually help us sleep better. Just like some foods can make us feel all jittery and wide awake, there are foods that can do the opposite and help us chill out and drift off to dreamland.

Understanding Sleep-Inducing Nutrients

When we're tossing and turning at night, struggling to drift off, it might not just be stress or that late-afternoon coffee keeping us awake—it could also be what's missing from our dinner plates. Nutrients like magnesium, tryptophan, and melatonin help our bodies and brains slip into dreamland more smoothly.


Magnesium works with our brain's sleep signals and helps make melatonin, the hormone that tells us when it's time to sleep. It can also lower cortisol, the stress hormone, which can mess with our sleep. Not having enough magnesium might make it hard to sleep well, so it's a good idea to eat foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that are full of magnesium.


Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and sleep. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, tryptophan can contribute to the production of serotonin, which in turn can be converted into melatonin, the hormone responsible for promoting sleep.

Foods rich in tryptophan include poultry, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and certain fruits such as bananas.


Melatonin is a crucial hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, signaling to the body when it's time to rest. It is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness, helping to synchronize the body's internal clock and promote sleep.

Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening, signaling to the body that it's time to wind down and prepare for rest, making it an essential contributor to the initiation and maintenance of healthy sleep patterns.

Eating melatonin-rich foods such as tart cherries, tomatoes, and nuts can support natural melatonin production. 

Top Foods to Help You Sleep: The Ultimate List


Cherries, particularly tart cherries, are a natural source of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Eating cherries or drinking tart cherry juice can help increase melatonin levels, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.


Almonds are packed with magnesium, a mineral known for its muscle-relaxing properties, which can help improve sleep quality by making it easier to fall asleep.


Bananas are rich in potassium and magnesium, both of which help relax muscles and nerves. They also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that gets converted into serotonin and melatonin in the brain, promoting sleep.


Oats are not only a comforting and easy nighttime snack but also contain high levels of melatonin and complex carbohydrates that can help more tryptophan get into the brain to aid sleep.

Dairy Products (Milk, Yogurt, Cheese)

Dairy products contain tryptophan and calcium. Calcium helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, while a warm glass of milk has long been a traditional remedy for insomnia.

Fatty Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel)

Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which have been shown to increase serotonin production, improving sleep quality.


Kiwis are high in antioxidants, serotonin, and folate, all of which may have positive effects on sleep. Studies suggest that eating kiwi before bed can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.


Walnuts contain a few compounds that promote and regulate sleep, including melatonin, magnesium, and serotonin. Eating walnuts regularly might help improve sleep patterns.

Chamomile Tea

While not a food, chamomile tea is a hydrating and calming beverage that contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in the brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.

Whole Grains (Barley, Bulgur, Buckwheat)

Whole grains are rich in magnesium, which many people don't get enough of. A lack of magnesium can make it harder to stay asleep, so incorporating whole grains into your diet can help with sleep issues.

The Connection Between Diet and Sleep Quality

The connection between our diet and sleep quality is deeply rooted in the impact of specific nutrients on our body's sleep-wake cycle. Certain foods contain components that can make us feel more sleepy or help improve the quality of our sleep.

For instance, foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid, help the body produce serotonin, which is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin. This process is crucial for establishing a healthy sleep rhythm. Similarly, foods high in magnesium and calcium act as natural muscle relaxants, helping the body unwind and prepare for rest, thereby facilitating the transition to sleep.

On the other hand, fatty, spicy, or heavy meals can lead to discomfort and indigestion, negatively impacting sleep quality. Foods that are known to trigger indigestion or heartburn, such as citrus fruits, chocolate, and caffeinated beverages, are best avoided before bedtime.

Having large or high-fat meals late in the evening can also disrupt sleep, as the digestive process may cause discomfort and affect the body's ability to transition into a restful state.

Special Considerations: Food for Insomnia and Anxiety

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile contains compounds that may help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

Fatty Fish

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel can help reduce inflammation and support brain health, potentially aiding in anxiety reduction.

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, which can help regulate neurotransmitters and promote relaxation.


Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce stress and inflammation.

Turkey, Chicken, and Fish

These protein sources are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of calmness and well-being.

Ideal Evening Meals: Best Food to Eat Before Bed

Here are a few balanced, light evening meal ideas that are both nutritious and sleep-promoting.

Salmon with Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa

  • Bake some salmon fillets seasoned with lemon and herbs.
  • Roast a medley of colorful vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers for a dose of vitamins and fiber.
  • Cook a small serving of quinoa for a source of complex carbohydrates.

This meal offers protein from the salmon, magnesium from the vegetables, and calming tryptophan from the fish, all working together for a good night's sleep.

Turkey and Veggie Stir-Fry with Brown Rice

  • Sauté lean ground turkey with your favorite stir-fry veggies like snap peas, mushrooms, and onions.
  • Add a splash of low-sodium soy sauce and ginger for an Asian-inspired twist.
  • Serve over a bed of brown rice for a satisfying and sleep-promoting meal.

This dish is full of protein from the turkey, fiber from the vegetables, and complex carbohydrates from the rice, providing a balanced and calming pre-bed option.

Lentil Soup with Whole-Wheat Toast

  • Prepare a simple lentil soup with chopped vegetables and herbs for a warm and comforting meal.
  • Toast a slice of whole-wheat bread and spread some mashed avocado for healthy fats.
  • Lentils are a great source of protein and magnesium, while the avocado provides healthy fats and the whole-wheat bread offers complex carbohydrates, making this a well-rounded and sleep-supportive choice.

Chicken and Sweet Potato Salad

  • Grill or bake a boneless, skinless chicken breast and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
  • Roast sweet potato cubes and toss them with chopped romaine lettuce, diced apples, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
  • Add the chicken to the salad for a complete and balanced meal.

This salad offers protein from the chicken, complex carbohydrates from the sweet potato, and healthy fats from the vinaigrette, creating a light and sleep-friendly option.

Cottage Cheese with Berries and Sliced Almonds

  • Combine a serving of low-fat cottage cheese with a mix of your favorite berries for a touch of sweetness.
  • Sprinkle some sliced almonds on top for a source of magnesium and healthy fats.

Cottage cheese provides protein and calcium, while the berries offer antioxidants and some natural sugars, and the almonds add healthy fats for a light and sleep-promoting snack or small meal.

Bonus Tip: Enjoy a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk with a hint of honey after your light dinner to further promote relaxation and prepare your body for sleep.

Timing Matters: When to Eat Before Bed

The timing of your last meal or snack before bed plays a crucial role in how well you sleep. Eating too close to bedtime can lead to discomfort and sleep disturbances, as your body is still busy digesting when it should be winding down.

To avoid such disruptions, it's generally recommended to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before you plan to sleep. This window allows your body ample time to digest, reducing the risk of indigestion, acid reflux, and other issues that might keep you awake.

If you do find yourself feeling peckish close to bedtime, a small snack with a mix of protein and complex carbohydrates, like a handful of almonds with a banana slice, can help curb hunger without interfering with sleep.

The Role of Hydration in Sleep

Proper hydration affects nearly every aspect of our health, including the efficiency of various physiological processes that are integral to sleep, such as temperature regulation and the body's natural repair mechanisms that kick in during rest.

When we're well-hydrated, our bodies are better equipped to handle these processes smoothly, leading to a more restful and uninterrupted sleep cycle. Dehydration can lead to dry mouth and nasal passages, increasing the likelihood of snoring and sleep disruptions, not to mention the uncomfortable feeling of thirst that can wake you from a deep sleep.

However, while maintaining hydration is key, it's also important that you balance fluid intake to avoid late-night trips to the bathroom, which can significantly disrupt sleep. Drinking too much water or other fluids before bed can lead to nocturia, the need to urinate frequently during the night, pulling you out of the restorative phases of sleep and making it difficult to fall back asleep. To prevent this, reduce fluid intake a few hours before bedtime to ensure that your last significant drink is consumed early enough in the evening to allow your body time to process the fluids before you hit the sack.

Foods to Avoid Before Bedtime

Caffeinated Products

Coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks contain caffeine, a stimulant that can keep you awake if consumed late in the day.

Spicy Foods

Eating spicy dishes close to bedtime can lead to discomfort and indigestion, making it harder to fall asleep.

High-Fat Foods

Foods with a high fat content can be harder to digest, potentially leading to discomfort and sleep disturbances.


While alcohol might initially make you feel drowsy, it can disrupt your sleep cycle and decrease sleep quality later in the night.

Sugary Foods and Drinks

Consuming too much sugar can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, possibly causing wakefulness during the night.

Acidic Foods

Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and foods high in acidity can cause heartburn or acid reflux, which might disrupt sleep.


Besides containing some caffeine, chocolate also has theobromine, a compound that can increase heart rate and lead to sleeplessness.

Processed Foods and Meats

These can contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid that can produce norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.


Especially aged cheeses contain tyramine, which, like in processed foods, can keep you awake.

Heavy or Large Meals

Eating big or heavy meals before bed can lead to discomfort and indigestion, impacting your ability to fall asleep.

Creating a Sleep-Friendly Evening Routine

A good night's sleep doesn't just happen, it's cultivated. By establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, you signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Dietary Habits

  • Avoid heavy meals and caffeine close to bedtime to prevent sleep disruptions.
  • Consider a light, sleep-promoting snack, such as a banana or a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk.

Relaxation Techniques

  • Practice mindfulness or deep-breathing exercises to calm the mind.
  • Try gentle yoga stretches to relax your body and ease muscle tension.

Environmental Adjustments

  • Ensure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet, using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that support your preferred sleeping position.

Limit Screen Time

  • Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed to reduce blue light exposure, which can interfere with melatonin production.


  • Stay hydrated throughout the day but reduce fluid intake in the evening to minimize nighttime awakenings.

Adapting Your Diet for Better Sleep Long-Term

Here are a few best practices that we recommend to help you maintain a well-balanced diet that supports restful sleep:

Balanced Nutrition

  • Focus on incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all food groups at each meal.
  • Include protein sources like fish, chicken, or legumes at dinner to promote satiety and support relaxation.
  • Choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains or sweet potatoes for sustained energy and to avoid blood sugar crashes.
  • Don't forget healthy fats. Include sources like nuts, seeds, or avocado in your meals for satiety and potential sleep-promoting benefits.

Regular Meal Times

  • Aim for consistent meal schedules throughout the day. This helps regulate your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast, which can lead to overeating later and potential sleep disruption.
  • Eat dinner at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for proper digestion and prevent discomfort.

Mindful Eating

  • Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly and savor your food, allowing your body time to register satiety signals.
  • Avoid distractions while eating, like watching TV or scrolling through your phone. This promotes mindful eating and helps you avoid overeating.
  • Listen to your body. If you're not hungry close to bedtime, don't force yourself to eat. A small snack might be okay, but prioritize sleep over unnecessary late-night calories.

Embracing Foods for Sleep as Part of a Holistic Sleep Strategy

Carefully choosing the right foods can positively influence our sleep patterns and overall well-being. Proper nutrition and sleep quality should not be overstated, as they work hand in hand to rejuvenate our bodies and minds, preparing us for the challenges of a new day.

Incorporating foods rich in tryptophan, such as poultry, nuts, and dairy products, can aid in the production of sleep-inducing hormones, while avoiding heavy or stimulating foods close to bedtime can promote relaxation and prepare the body for rest.

Creating a bedtime routine that includes dietary habits, relaxation techniques, and environmental adjustments can also significantly contribute to improved sleep quality.

By making conscious choices about the foods we consume, we can positively impact our sleep quality and overall health.

Expert Answers to Your Sleep and Diet Questions

What are the best foods to eat before bed for a good night's sleep?

Foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium, and calcium, such as almonds, bananas, cherries, and dairy products, can promote a good night's sleep by aiding the production of sleep-regulating hormones.

Can certain foods actually help reduce insomnia and anxiety at night?

Yes, certain foods can help reduce insomnia and anxiety at night by promoting relaxation and supporting the body's natural sleep processes. Foods rich in magnesium, like almonds and spinach, or those containing tryptophan, such as turkey and milk, can encourage a calmer state and aid in better sleep.

I have dietary restrictions, are there still foods I can eat to improve sleep?

Yes, even with dietary restrictions, there are various foods you can include in your diet to improve sleep. Options like bananas, almonds, and dairy or dairy alternatives (for those who are lactose intolerant or vegan) are rich in sleep-promoting nutrients like magnesium and tryptophan.

How does what I eat affect how well I sleep?

What you eat can significantly impact your sleep quality, as certain foods can either promote relaxation and increase melatonin production, aiding in better sleep, or contain stimulants like caffeine and sugar that can disrupt your sleep cycle. Including sleep-friendly foods in your diet and avoiding heavy or stimulating foods before bedtime can help enhance your sleep experience.

Are there any foods I should avoid to improve my sleep?

Yes, to improve your sleep, it's best to avoid foods and drinks high in caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Also, spicy, fatty, and heavy meals can disrupt sleep by causing discomfort and indigestion.

Does it matter if I eat certain foods during the day to improve sleep at night?

Yes, it does matter. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins during the day can positively impact your sleep quality at night. Avoiding heavy, rich, or spicy foods close to bedtime can also help promote better sleep.

Can a change in diet lead to long-term improvements in sleep quality?

Yes, a change in diet can lead to long-term improvements in sleep quality. Incorporating foods that promote sleep, such as those rich in melatonin, magnesium, and tryptophan, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime, can enhance sleep patterns over time.

Is it better to eat a light meal or skip dinner entirely for better sleep?

Eating a light meal is generally better for promoting good sleep compared to skipping dinner entirely, as going to bed hungry can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep. A small, easily digestible meal can satisfy hunger without overburdening your digestive system, leading to a more restful night.

How far in advance of bedtime should I eat for better sleep?

To promote better sleep, it's generally recommended to finish eating 2 to 3 hours before your bedtime. This allows your body ample time to digest the food, minimizing the chances of discomfort or disruptions to your sleep.

Are there any supplements I can take instead of food to sleep better?

Yes, there are supplements like melatonin, magnesium, and valerian root that are known to promote better sleep by helping regulate sleep cycles, relaxing muscles, and reducing anxiety. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen to ensure it's safe and suitable for your specific needs.