April 13, 2018

Everyone knows that a healthy diet is the key to a healthy life. Eating the right foods can give your body the energy it needs to keep you moving, give your brain a boost, prevent illness, heal wounds, and basically everything else you need to live a happy, healthy, and productive life. Unfortunately, we often forget the fact that sleep is one of those essential functions - and your diet plays a larger role than you think!

The truth is, if you find yourself struggling to sleep well, your eating habits might be to blame. A healthy diet is an often-overlooked piece of the puzzle when it comes to good sleep hygiene. It's important to eat the right foods at the right time for the best sleep possible, and even more essential to avoid the foods that can keep you awake at night! We're not just talking about pickles before bed, either: many common foods can completely throw off your body's sleep-wake cycle, especially if they are eaten within a few hours of bedtime! Read on to learn more about the best and worst foods for a restful sleep.

The Best Foods for Sleep

Melatonin is the main hormone responsible for regulating your sleep. Your body naturally produces melatonin at night to help you fall asleep, and keeps producing it throughout the night as you move through the sleep stages, before tapering off by morning so you wake up feeling rested. The more melatonin you have stored by bedtime, the easier you'll find it to fall and stay asleep, and the more rested you'll feel in the morning! If you don't have the right combination of nutrients to produce the melatonin you need, you'll lie awake or toss and turn throughout the night. It's just that simple! The main ingredients to look for when you want a good sleep are:


Tryptophan is an amino acid that your body converts into melatonin over time. This is the chemical found in turkey that is famous for making people sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner! You can find it in:

  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Green vegetables like spinach, asparagus, onions, avocado, and broccoli
  • Fruit like peaches, apples, and bananas
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Seafood like halibut, salmon, shrimp, tuna, sardines, and cod
  • Whole grains like wheat, barley, oats, and corn
  • Nuts and seeds like flax, sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, and almonds


Your body needs calcium to convert tryptophan into melatonin. It's essential for a good rest! If you don't have enough, you might wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep. In fact, a calcium-rich diet has been shown to reduce the symptoms of insomnia! It is found in:

  • Dark leafy greens like baby spinach, kale, and collard greens
  • Fortified orange juice and dairy products
  • Enriched grains, fortified cereals, and whole wheat bread
  • Sardines
  • Green vegetables like broccoli and snap peas

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 also helps you convert tryptophan into melatonin. Lower than normal levels of vitamin B6 are linked to poor sleep, mood disorders like depression, and insomnia. Vitamin B6 is found in:

  • Sunflower seeds and flaxseed
  • Fruit like bananas and dried prunes
  • Fish like tuna, halibut, and salmon
  • Lean meat like poultry, pork, and beef
  • Avocados
  • Pistachios

Natural Sources of Melatonin

Of course, there are also natural sources of melatonin that can help you sleep better! Here are a few:

  • Red fruit like tart cherries, pomegranates, and grapes
  • Vegetables like corn, asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, and olives
  • Grains like barley, rice, and rolled oats
  • Seeds and nuts like sunflower seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, and peanuts

The Missing Link: Magnesium

Magnesium isn't used when your body is producing melatonin, but it's still essential for a healthy sleep schedule! Magnesium is called the "sleep mineral", and with good reason: it is a natural relaxant that helps to deactivate adrenaline in your body. Without it, you'll struggle to fall asleep at night. You can find it in:

  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Soybeans
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Fish like salmon, halibut, and tuna
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, pecans, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed

The Worst Foods for Sleep

Many foods that are healthy during the day can hurt your sleep if you eat them within 2-3 hours of bedtime! Here are a few simple things to avoid if you want to wake up feeling refreshed every day:

  • Anything with caffeine or alcohol.Caffeine is a natural stimulant, which is great first thing in the morning - but not so great if you want to fall asleep. And despite popular belief, alcohol will not help you sleep better. It can cause drowsiness which can help you fall asleep, but prevents you from making it to the deeper sleep stages that are so essential for a good rest.
  • Spicy foods or foods that are high in fat.Even though they can be very healthy, spicy foods are notorious for causing heartburn. Heartburn can get even worse when you lay down, keeping you awake for hours longer than you want. A high-fat diet can cause the same problem as stomach acids build up and creep into your esophagus when lying down.
  • High protein, heavy meals before bed.The harder your body has to work to digest something, the less energy it will end up putting toward helping you fall asleep. Digestion also raises your body's core temperature, when it should be cooling off to prepare you for sleep.
  • Foods with a high water content.Foods like watermelon, celery sticks, and cucumber are great for hydrating during the day, but can lead to sleep issues by forcing you out of bed for a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip. For the same reason, you should also avoid drinking too much before bed.

Late-night Snacks That Promote Sleep

If you feel hungry late at night, skip the second supper and reach for a light snack packed with calcium, tryptophan, magnesium, and vitamin B6 instead. Some great options for a late-night snack are some whole wheat toast with peanut butter, a bowl of cereal, cheese and crackers, or a cup of yogurt with sliced fruit.