The Best Foods to Help You Sleep

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Foods can either enhance or worsen your sleep quality, which measures how well-rested you feel in the morning. Good sleep quality is vital for your mental and physical health, and sleeping well is associated with better cognitive skills, more physical energy, positive emotions, and improved immune function.

For this article, we’ll focus on foods that could improve sleep. The connection between certain foods for sleep is based on scientific studies. The research suggests correlations between the nutrients in these foods and how they could promote better sleep based on what’s already known about how the body works.

Best Fruits for Sleep

According to registered nurse, holistic nutritionist, and certified health coach Raina Cordell, fruits are a great food for helping with sleep.

“Many fruits are rich in the hormone melatonin, which could help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. While fruit does technically contain sugar, most fruits are also high in fiber which prevents the blood sugar spike we see with many other foods. Fruits are also rich in antioxidants, compounds that may help to combat the oxidative stress that many sleep disorders bring.”

Kiwi

Kiwi is a fruit with a bright green interior native to China and can be consumed on its own or in other fruit dishes and recipes.

“Kiwis are rich in magnesium, melatonin, calcium, and a variety of other elements that make them a great bed-time snack. One small study1 found that eating two kiwi fruits an hour before bed improved the ability to fall asleep, sleep length, and overall quality of rest.” – Raina Cordell

Kiwi kabobs Illustration

Cherries

If you love cherries, you should be pleased to know that this fruit could help you sleep2.

“Cherries (especially tart varieties and their juice) have been found to be rich in sleep-promoting melatonin, potassium, serotonin, and tryptophan.” – Raina Cordell

Vegetables

Vegetables are an incredibly healthy food source and could improve your sleep as well.

“A study3 out of Stanford University looked at dietary patterns in 245 physicians and discovered that a plant-based diet was associated with less fatigue and sleep-related impairments than either a high protein or a high saturated fat and sugar diet.” – Raina Cordell

Nuts

Nuts like walnuts and pistachios may improve sleep. Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin, which is needed for the sleep process. They also contain melatonin, which promotes sleep.

A 2005 study4 found that consuming walnuts increased blood melatonin levels. Another study led by researchers from Louisiana State University found that pistachios5 contain upwards of 660 nanograms of melatonin per gram of pistachio. They add this amount is much higher than in other foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals, and seeds.

Bowl of Nuts and a Glass of Water Illustration

Almonds

Almonds are often considered nuts but are actually classified as drupes. They are oval-shaped and come from almond trees. Almonds contain melatonin, vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, fiber, and phosphorus.

Melatonin and magnesium are two particular ingredients that could help improve rest. Melatonin is a hormone that helps promote sleepiness. The body naturally releases melatonin at night as part of its 24-hour internal cycle, but consuming extra melatonin may help aid this process. Magnesium is an important mineral for bodily functions like muscles, nerves, blood sugar, blood pressure, and more. A 2011 study6 suggests that consuming magnesium may help relieve stress, a common culprit behind insomnia.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish refers to a type of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Examples of fatty fish with these nutrients are anchovies, herring, mackerel, black cod, salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, whitefish, striped bass, and cobia.

A 2014 study7 had participants eat three salmon three times a week for five months. The participants showed an overall improvement in their sleep quality and daily functioning. Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids help regulate serotonin, which plays a role in physiological functions like energy and sleep.

Rice

Rice is a carbohydrate grain that’s popular in many international dishes. White rice has a high glycemic index.

A 2014 study8 found that higher rice consumption was linked to better sleep quality. However, there are dangers to consuming too much food with a high glycemic index. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these foods cause spikes in blood sugar, increasing one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Yogurt

Yogurt is a food that makes an easy late-night snack and could help you rest easier at the same time. Raina Cordell explains:

“Yogurt contains tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, but it also is rich in calcium and magnesium. These two minerals contribute to muscle relaxation, stress reduction, and stability of the nervous system.

Another reason yogurt may be such a great bedtime snack is that it contains less lactose than other dairy products and may help to improve digestive health. If heartburn and indigestion keep you up at night, this calcium-rich snack could flame the fire burning in your throat.

Yogurt also contains probiotics, which contribute to a healthy microbiome. Research on the role of gut health in regulating sleep is still in its infancy, but studies9 have found that the microbiome may play a much larger role in sleep than we previously thought.

If you do choose yogurt as a bedtime snack, be sure to look for unsweetened varieties that contain live probiotics. Sweetened yogurt may contain as much sugar as a candy bar, which could keep you up at night. Unsweetened Greek yogurt that is rich in protein is the best choice, topped with cinnamon, fruit, or nuts (try cherries or kiwi to enhance the sedative effects).”

Best Drinks for Sleep

Tart Cherry Juice

We mentioned earlier that cherries are a great bedtime snack. If you’d prefer a beverage before bed you could opt for some tart cherry juice. Tart cherry juice is a beverage extracted from Montmorency – or sour – cherries.

“Multiple studies10 have shown that drinking tart cherry juice before sleep helps to improve symptoms of insomnia.” – Raina Cordell

Illustration of a Woman Drinking Tart Cherry Juice Before Going to Sleep

Milk

Milk is a liquid produced by the mammary glands of female animals and humans to provide nourishment for babies and young animals. Many humans also consume milk from cows as part of their regular diet, and it’s an excellent source of important nutrients like protein, calcium, vitamins A and D, and more.

Milk also contains tryptophan, which some experts suggest may explain why milk is believed to help improve sleep. A 2020 study11 found that consuming milk as part of a well-balanced diet is linked to better sleep quality. Drinking warm milk before bed is also a well-known suggestion to help children fall asleep, and so the cognitive association alone could foster relaxation for sleep.

What Foods Should You Not Eat Before Sleeping?

Certain foods can trigger digestive problems that negatively impact sleep quality. Most foods to avoid before bed are ones that can trigger acid reflux at night. The foods you shouldn’t eat before sleeping are listed below.

  1. Coffee
  2. Caffeinated tea
  3. Carbonated drinks
  4. Chocolate
  5. Peppermint
  6. Grapefruit
  7. Oranges
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Alcohol
  10. Fried foods
  11. Large late-night meals

Best Foods for Sleep FAQs:

Food is important to sleep because it can positively or negatively affect how well you rest. Healthy foods and beverages like fruits, vegetables, nuts, almonds, fatty fish, rice, yogurt, tart cherry juice, and milk offer nutritional value that research suggests may support better sleep. A good diet can help with sleep in other ways. First, a good diet gives you more energy for exercise. Physical activity is associated with enhanced sleep quality. Second, a good diet gives you more energy throughout the day. The extra energy means you’re less likely to take daytime naps, which could throw off your sleep schedule. Third, good diets can help improve your mental health, and poor mental health is linked to worse sleep.

Conversely, eating unhealthy foods, especially late at night, could trigger digestive problems like heartburn that can keep you up at night. Sleep deprivation is linked to higher cravings for unhealthy foods, perpetuating the cycle. Eating before bed  can also harm your sleep quality because a full stomach can feel uncomfortable and cause indigestion. Going to bed on an empty stomach can be distracting as well, so experts advise having a light, healthy snack before bed instead of large meals.

Can Food be Digested while Sleeping?

Yes, you can digest food while you are sleeping. The digestive system continues to operate while you are asleep, but it moves at a slower pace. During sleep, the digestive system uses glucose consumed during the day to repair and grow tissues. However, eating too much food before bed doesn’t give the digestive system proper recovery time because it has to work harder to digest the extra food. This can result in conditions like indigestion, heartburn, or acid reflux.

Can Babies Eat Food before Sleeping?

In some cases, it is okay for babies to eat before sleeping. While many newborn babies may naturally fall asleep after nursing, as they get older, they could develop a feed-to-sleep association12 in which they need food to fall asleep. Additionally, consuming solids just before bed could be harder on their digestive system, so you’ll want to feed them solids13 at least an hour before they’re put down to rest.

Are Some Foods Good for Fighting Insomnia?

Yes, foods can be good for fighting insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which someone experiences difficulty falling or staying asleep. Insomnia is harmful because it can lead to sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality, negatively impacting your physical and mental health. Certain foods contain nutrients that may help you feel tired or rest better by supporting the body’s natural sleep process. For example, certain foods and beverages contain vitamin D, such as fatty fish and milk, which supports serotonin production, and serotonin plays an important role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

What Foods Burn Fat while You Sleep?

Certain foods can help burn fat and promote sleep. Some of the best bedtime foods for weight loss include:

  • cherries
  • greek yogurt
  • peanut butter
  • protein shakes
  • cottage cheese
  • turkey
  • bananas
  • chocolate milk
  • kefir fermented milk
  • high fiber cereal
  • string cheese

Many of these foods, such as cottage cheese and peanut butter, contain protein, which helps build lean muscle and burn fat.

What other Factors can Improve Sleep Quality?

Other facts that can improve your sleep quality include good sleep hygiene and treating other underlying conditions hindering your rest. Good sleep hygiene is one of the first steps to improving sleep quality. Examples of good sleep hygiene are keeping a consistent sleep schedule, having a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom, cutting off electronics before bed, avoiding disruptive foods and beverages, and regular exercise.

Treating health issues that impair rest is also essential for good sleep quality. For those whose sleep is impaired by mental health problems, seeking treatment such as therapy can be highly beneficial. Other sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea can affect sleep. You should consult with your doctor, who can do a formal examination to diagnose and treat your sleep disorder.

Conclusion

You may be surprised to learn that many common foods and beverages naturally contain sleep-promoting nutrients. What’s more, is that the foods and drinks we’ve shared are also incredibly healthy. By consuming these products, you could not only improve your sleep, but you can reap additional nutritious benefits. These suggestions are great for anyone who wants to enhance their quality of rest without relying on medications or over-the-counter supplements. From kiwis and cherries to milk and yogurt, your next bedtime snack could be the answer you’re looking for to better sleep.

Sources:

  1. Lin, Hsiao-Han., Tsai, Pei-Shan., Fang, Su-Chen., Liu, Jen-Fang. “Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems”. Taipei Medical University School of Nutrition and Health Sciences. https://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/apjcn/20/2/169.pdf. 2011.
  2. Kelley, Darshan S., Adkins, Yuriko., Laugero, Kevin D. “A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries”. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872786/. 2018.
  3. Makowski PhD, Maryam S., Shanafelt MD, Tait D. Hausel MPH RD, Andrea., Bohman MD, Bryan D., Roberts MD, Rachel. Trockel PhD MD, Mickey T. “Associations Between Dietary Patterns and Sleep-Related Impairment in a Cohort of Community Physicians: A Cross-sectional Study”. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827619871923?journalCode=ajla. 2019.
  4. Reiter, Russel J., Manchester, L C., Tan, Dun-xian. “Melatonin in walnuts: influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15979282/#:~:text=Increases%20in%20blood%20melatonin%20were,eaten%2C%20increase%20blood%20melatonin%20concentrations. 2005.
  5. Hirigoyen, Judy. “STUDY FINDS AMERICAN GROWN PISTACHIOS CONTAIN MELATONIN”. American Pistachio Growers. https://americanpistachios.org/about-us/pistachio-power-unshelled/press-releases/study-finds-american-grown-pistachios-contain. 2019.
  6. Vink, Robert., Nechifor, Mihai. “Magnesium in the Central Nervous System”. University of Adelaide Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507264/. 2011.
  7. Hansen Ph.D, Anita L., Dahl Ph.D, Lisbeth. Olson, Gina., Thornton, Ph.D, David., et. al. “Fish Consumption, Sleep, Daily Functioning, and Heart Rate Variability”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013386/#:~:text=Fatty%20fish%20consumption%20has%20been,sleep%20quality%20and%20daily%20functioning. 2014.
  8. Yoneyama, Satoko., Sakurai, Masaru., Nakamura, Koshi., Morikawa, Yuko., et. al. “Associations between rice, noodle, and bread intake and sleep quality in Japanese men and women”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25127476/#:~:text=Conclusion%3A%20A%20high%20dietary%20glycemic,is%20associated%20with%20poor%20sleep. 2014.
  9. Li, Yuanyuan., Hao, Yanli., Fan, Fang., Zhang, Bin. “The Role of Microbiome in Insomnia, Circadian Disturbance and Depression”. Frontiers in Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6290721/. 2018.
  10. Losso, Jack N., Finley, John W., Karki, Namrata., Liu, Ann G., et. al. “Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28901958/. 2018.
  11. Komada, Yoko., Okajima, Isa., Kuwata, Tamotsu. “The Effects of Milk and Dairy Products on Sleep: A Systematic Review”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33339284/. 2020.
  12. Appleton, Nicola. “How to Stop Nursing Your Baby To Sleep”. Very Well Family. Last modified October 22, 2021. https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-stop-nursing-your-baby-to-sleep-5199279#:~:text=What%20Is%20a%20Feed%2Dto%2DSleep%20Association%3F&text=%E2%80%9CThis%20means%20the%20child%20associates,Kansagra.
  13. Purdue, Emma. “Can solids affect how well your baby sleeps?”. Baby Sleep Consultant New Zealand. https://babysleepconsultant.co.nz/blogs/news/can-solids-affect-how-well-your-baby-sleeps#:~:text=While%20milk%20is%20fine%20to,day%20or%20in%20the%20evening. 2020.
Editor

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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