Skip to main content

Eat For Good Sleep

Jan 1 2021
5 min read
close-up of bowl of oatmeal

Trouble sleeping? Eating the right foods can help you get your rest again and stay healthy.

More than you might expect, nutrition plays an important role in supporting restful sleep and a balanced mood. Eating regularly throughout the day, for example, will help you regulate circadian rhythms to support daytime alertness and nighttime sleep. And a healthy balanced diet aids the body’s ability to make the sleep promoting serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin. Adequate calcium, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins are all important nutrients for sleep enhancement, and here’s where you’ll find them:

Calcium

Milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified dairy alternatives, almonds, almond butter, artichokes, broccoli, kale, collards, turnip greens, sesame seeds, black strap molasses

Magnesium

Spinach, Swiss chard, tofu, almonds, almond butter, pumpkin seeds, legumes, ground flax seed, peanut butter, quinoa, edamame, brown rice, sweet potato, broccoli

Iron

Animal meats, egg yolks, legumes, nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables

B Vitamins

Leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, B12 – animal protein and dairy products

Some Sleep Disruptors

Alcohol disrupts sleep quality and duration. It’s initially sedating, yes, but as the brain goes through withdrawal, you may find yourself waking in the middle of the night. Generally, one drink disrupts sleep for two hours – that’s 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or a 12-ounce beer. One half-bottle of wine can disrupt sleep for 5 hours! If you choose to drink, be mindful of the quantity and the timing, and don’t use alcohol to help you to fall asleep.

Caffeine, from coffee, soda, energy drinks, and some sports drinks, is a stimulant that can interfere with sleep. Tea and chocolate contain similar stimulating compounds. Caffeine is also a diuretic, which may wake you for nighttime trips to the bathroom. The timing and quantity of caffeine intake is important. A quarter of the caffeine you consumed at 8 am is still in your system at 10 pm. Pay attention to how much caffeine you’re consuming and know your individual tolerance. If you need to cut back, do it gradually to prevent headaches and fatigue.

Consider these Caffeince-Cutting Strategies

  • Mix half regular and half decaffeinated coffee
  • Choose caffeine-free herbal teas
  • Drink mineral water or seltzer in place of carbonated beverages with caffeine

And Sleep Enhancers

Tryptophan is an amino acid that may promote sleep and calm your mood. Tryptophan is converted in the brain to serotonin, associated with mood stability, and into the sleep hormone melatonin. To ensure that tryptophan passes through the blood brain barrier, include a carbohydrate-rich food with these tryptophan-rich foods:

  • Milk and dairy products
  • Turkey, chicken, eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Bananas
  • Fish
  • Spinach
  • Nuts and peanuts
  • Pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Dates, figs and honey
  • Brown rice
  • Soy
  • Legumes

Try these tryptophan-rich snacks one or two hours before bedtime to boost melatonin:

  • Small oatmeal cookie with a glass of milk
  • Plain yogurt mixed with one tablespoon tart cherry juice concentrate and a drizzle of honey
  • Fruit yogurt with berries
  • Natural nut butter on half a whole–wheat English muffin
  • A glass of warm milk with vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon

Melatonin and Cherries

Melatonin is important in regulating your wake-sleep cycle and may help reduce risk of viral infection. Blue wavelength light, nicotine, and alcohol suppress melatonin production. Tart cherry juice contains melatonin. In one study, two ounces of tart cherry juice concentrate per day moderately improved sleep quality and quantity.

Conventionally grown cherries are high in pesticides, so choose organic cherries/cherry juice when possible. Mix two ounces of tart cherry juice concentrate with water or seltzer, and drink one to two hours before bedtime.

Supplements

Try to meet your all nutrient needs through diet. Certain supplements, as recommended by your healthcare provider, may also be helpful to achieve restful sleep:

  • Magnesium and calcium: Supplementation of these nutrients taken one to two hours before bedtime can induce relaxation and promote sleep. Magnesium chelate or glycinate may be easier to digest and absorb than other forms. Calcium citrate is a good choice due to better absorption and tolerance.
  • B complex vitamins: Look for activated B complex vitamins, such as methyl folate/B 12. Take B vitamins during the day, as taking them at night may be stimulating and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Melatonin: taken two hours prior to bedtime may improve sleep onset and duration.

Practical Nutrition Considerations

  • Eat breakfast when you feel hungry and then eat every 3 - 4 hours.
  • Pay attention to the quantity and timing of alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • Avoid large meals 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid foods containing MSG, which can stimulate the nervous system.
  • Avoid spicy meals at dinner.
  • Limit gas-forming foods in the evening, such as legumes and cruciferous vegetables.