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Foods That Can Help You Sleep Better

Foods That Can Help You Sleep Better

Photo of a woman peeking out of the bed covers. The title "Foods to Help You Sleep Better" is on the sheets.

Good sleep is important for good health. Proper sleep can: 1) boost immune function, 2) improve brain function, and 3) reduce the risk of chronic illness, just to name a few benefits! But a good night’s sleep can be a struggle for many of us. Have you ever wondered what foods can help you sleep or how different foods can affect your sleep? We’re here to tell you that food CAN improve your sleep, and we’ve got a list of foods which help induce (or at least promote) good sleep.

How much sleep should you be getting? A general guide is 7-9 hours per night, but experts agree this varies widely from person to person. The bottom line is that you need to discover what amount of sleep allows your body to function at its peak, then develop a lifestyle to support that amount of sleep. Less than 6 hours or more than 10 is significantly outside the range of normal, so if your target amount of sleep is outside the range of 6-10 hours per night, we recommend you see a doctor just to make sure there’s nothing wrong.

Here’s a list of foods that can help promote sleep. All these foods have multiple health benefits, but for the sake of this article, we are focusing only on those benefits that relate to better sleep. Some of these foods are helpful to eat or drink before bed, but some just need to be part of your healthy, regular diet to do their job of aiding a good night’s sleep.

Photo of an unpeeled banana on a blue background: an example of a food that can help you sleep.

Bananas

One food that can help you sleep better is Bananas! Bananas are a good source of potassium which helps you stay asleep all night. They are also high in tryptophan and magnesium, which both work as natural sedatives. Regularly including bananas as part of your healthy diet can help your body sleep better.

A top-down photo of a cup of hot tea and an open novel sitting on a bed: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea has “flavones” which reduce inflammation. Inflammation is thought to contribute to sleep problems. There is also some evidence that chamomile tea reduces anxiety and depression, both of which can interfere with sleep. Chamomile tea also contains an antioxidant called “apigenin,” which bonds to receptors in your brain that promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia. Chamomile tea right before bedtime is a food that can help you sleep better.

Photo of a bowl of hummus sprinkled with whole chickpeas, cilantro, and seasonings: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Chickpeas (or Hummus)

Chickpeas contain an amino acid called “tryptophan,” which is used in the production of melatonin. They are also high in B6, which helps your body convert tryptophan to serotonin. In addition, chickpeas are high in fiber, which can contribute to good, restorative sleep. Incorporating chickpeas into your healthy diet can help your body produce the chemicals needed for good sleep, and snacking on a few right before bedtime might help even more.

A photo of milk splashing in a glass and milk being poured onto a surface, all on a gray background: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Dairy

Dairy foods are typically high in calcium, which is needed to help process the hormones that help you sleep. Just make sure you choose dairy foods that are not too high in fat or sugar, as those can be fattening when consumed at night and hard on the digestion right before bed. Specifically, warm milk is a long-accepted sleep aid. In addition to its calcium content, the protein and carbohydrates in milk probably help the body’s metabolism ease into sleep. Also, drinking something warm before bed can help the body relax and prepare for sleep.

A photo of raw salmon on waxed paper sitting on a cutting board: an example of a food that can help you sleep.. Fresh carrots and zucchini are in the background.

Fatty Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Halibut, Trout)

Fatty fish is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. Both of these nutrients are used in the body’s production of serotonin. Including fatty fish in your healthy diet two to three times a week may help your body to produce the amount of serotonin you need to sleep well.

Photo of kiwi fruit in a wooden bowl and on a wooden board, all on a wooden table. One kiwi is cut in half to reveal its bright green flesh: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Kiwi

Kiwi fruit contain serotonin, which is a brain chemical that helps regulate the sleep cycle. Eating kiwi as a regular part of your healthy diet may equip your body to produce the amount of serotonin you need to sleep well.

Photo of leafy greens on the shelf in a grocery store: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Collard Greens, Arugula)

Leafy greens are high in calcium, which is needed to help process the hormones that help you sleep. They also contain the neurotransmitter “choline,” which is known to improve sleep and helps with depression, which can interrupt sleep. Incorporate leafy greens into your diet on a daily basis to improve your sleep. If you want an easy way to incorporate more greens in your diet, check our our blog post Seven Steps to a Perfect Smoothie!

Photo of 6 different nuts in white bowls on a gray background: an example of a food that can help you sleep.. Pictured are peanuts in the shell, shelled peanuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, almonds, and walnuts.

Nuts & Seeds (like Almonds, Walnuts, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, & Flax Seeds)

Another food that can help you get better sleep is nuts. They are a source of melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates your body clock and signals your body to prepare for sleep. Nuts are also high in magnesium, which reduces inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol, both of which can interfere with sleep. Nuts also contain omega 3 fatty acids which help your body produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a lot of jobs in the body, one of which is helping you sleep well. Try snacking on a few nuts before bedtime to help you fall asleep faster.

Photo of a wooden teapot on a wooden tea tray with a glass cup of hot tea: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Passionflower Tea

Passionflower tea contains the antioxidant “apigenin,” which bonds to receptors in your brain that promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia. It also contains an inhibitory neurotransmitter called “gamma aminobutyric acid” (GABA for short) which inhibits the body’s production of brain chemicals that produce stress which can cause sleep loss. In other words, the GABA in passionflower tea can reduce anxiety. Drink passionflower tea before bedtime to calm your mind and improve your sleep.

Photo of half a roasted chicken on a white plate: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Poultry

Poultry contains an amino acid called “tryptophan,” which is used in the production of melatonin. These meats are also a good source of protein. Some research indicates that ingesting a moderate amount of protein before bed helps with better sleep. Eating chicken or turkey at your evening meal may help promote good sleep.

Photo of fresh cherries, a glass of cherry juice, and a cherry dessert on a wooden railing with a green vine in the background: an example of a food that can help you sleep..

Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice is another food that is naturally high in melatonin, one of the hormones that help you get to sleep. Try drinking cherry juice before bed to fall asleep faster.

In addition to including these foods into your healthy diet, you can combine many of them for tasty nighttime snack food that will help you get better sleep. Try:

  1. Cherry juice stirred into yogurt.
  2. Nuts dipped in hummus.
  3. A banana with a glass of milk.
  4. Leafy greens topped with pumpkin seeds.
  5. Chamomile tea with a splash of cream.

While we’re on the subject of foods and sleep, let’s talk about a few foods to avoid if you’re looking for a good night’s sleep.

Top down photo of a white cup of black coffee, a spoon of coffee grounds, a white napkin, a mason jar on its side spilling coffee grounds, and a spoon of coffee beans all on a white background with coffee beans scattered on it: an example of a food to avoid for better sleep.

Caffeine

It may seem obvious, but caffeine is a stimulant, so it can work against your ability to sleep. (We love coffee and highly recommend it for MORNINGS! Check our our blog Six Ways to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee.)

Photo of bottles of alcohol displayed behind a bar: an example of a food to avoid for better sleep.

Alcohol

This may surprise you since alcohol can make you sleepy. But as that effect wears off, the presence of alcohol in your system has been proven to interrupt sleep cycles.

Photo of a bowl of shrimp curry with a basket of red peppers, a pod of garlic, half a lime, and a fresh bay leaf nearby: an example of a food to avoid for better sleep. A blue and white checked napkin is tucked under the bowl.

Spicy or Fatty Foods Right Before Bedtime

These can cause acid reflux which will keep you up. Also, spicy foods can trigger hot flashes in menopausal women, and every middle aged woman knows that hot flashes are the enemy of sleep.

A photo of roughly chopped dark chocolate on a white background: an example of a food to avoid for better sleep.

Chocolate

Tragically, chocolate has caffeine and is therefore a stimulant, so we recommend avoiding it before bed.

Photo of a charcuterie board with 4 types of aged cheese and 3 types of preserved meats, plus pistachios, blueberries, strawberries, pecans, and apples: an example of a food to avoid for better sleep.

Aged Cheeses and Preserved Meats

Aged cheeses and preserved meats contain the amino acid tyramine, which causes alertness! So no more pepperoni, aged cheddar, or salami right before bed.

In addition to promoting healthy sleep with your diet, develop nighttime habits (like drinking warm milk or chamomile tea) to help teach the body to respond by preparing for sleep. Sticking to a regular bedtime is also helpful, as your body chemistry will learn to adapt with your schedule of behavior to allow you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

If you’re struggling to get good sleep, we hope you’ll try adjusting your diet. It’s an easy, healthy, inexpensive way to take steps toward the best sleep of your life!

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