By Jill Levy
One of the simplest ways to maintain health, both physically and mentally, is to get enough quality sleep. Unfortunately, high stress levels, our busy lives and demanding obligations can make that difficult.
While falling asleep and staying asleep can be an occasional challenge for many people, one thing you do have control over is the quality of your diet, which impacts how well your body can handle stress, feel calm and doze off to sleep at night.
What we eat affects our body’s ability to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that assist in a restful night’s sleep, plus a healthy diet is important for overall health.
What foods help you fall asleep? Give the below foods a shot to see if you can help eat yourself to a good night’s sleep. Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new diet or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.
14 Best Foods That Help You Sleep
Ultimately, getting consistently good sleep comes down to a number of factors — including the quality of your diet, your stress levels and your habits during the day, like whether you exercise or get sunlight exposure.
There do seem to be a number of foods that can help you sleep more soundly, particularly complex carbs and foods high in nutrients including magnesium and tryptophan.
What are the foods that will help you get quality sleep? Here are some of the best foods to help you sleep:
1. Poultry (Turkey and Chicken)
We’ve all taken a post-Thanksgiving nap before, but it may not be just because of overeating and lazy holiday fun.
Turkey and chicken both contain protein (amino acids), riboflavin, phosphorus and selenium, which are all important components of a healthy diet that aid in normal cognitive functions.
Poultry is also high in the amino acids called tryptophan, which releases melatonin, the hormone that helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, aka your “internal clock.”
Nuts, like walnuts and almonds, are great sources of tryptophan, which as mentioned above helps the body to produce melatonin and also serotonin (another calming, sleepy-time chemical).
Additionally, walnuts actually have their own source of melatonin, which may help you with your sleep. Plus, nuts are thought to promote a healthy response to inflammation.
In addition to tryptophan, almonds are also a great source of magnesium. When magnesium levels are low, it’s more difficult for our bodies to stay asleep, so it’s possible a daily handful of nuts may help.
Magnesium might also support quality sleep by promoting healthy inflammation responses and healthy cortisol levels (cortisol is a so-called “stress hormone” which might keep you up at night).
4. Herbal Tea
As long as the tea in question is caffeine-free, the nightly ritual of a steaming cup of soothing teas has been shown to help people fall asleep. Chamomile, passionfruit or peppermint are all relaxing choices that make great drinks to fall asleep more easily.
An overall healthy diet and lifestyle is the best thing you can do for sleep, and that includes a few servings of nutrient-dense fruits per day.
Which fruit helps you sleep? Some fruits are better than others, such as bananas that contain carbohydrates, magnesium and potassium, two electrolytes that aid in sleep and healthy function and nerve functions.
Wild-caught fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, or trout supply you with protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which can often support a good night's sleep due to enhancing production of serotonin.
7. Sprouted Grains
Sprouted whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats contain carbs, fiber and magnesium that are helpful for promoting relaxation, healthy blood flow and supporting muscle health. This means that eating a good-quality slice of sprouted grain bread a couple hours before bedtime might make a difference in the quality of your night’s sleep.
Kale is a superfood that offers numerous nutrients including antioxidants, calcium and magnesium. Just like with whole grains and dairy products, leafy greens can help to support healthy circulation, heart functions and brain health, which assist in sleep and relaxation.
9. Spinach and Other Greens
Much like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, etc. provide you with phytonutrients, magnesium, calcium and also fiber (which most people need more of in their diets), which supports healthy immune system function, gut health, brain health and more.
These nutrient-rich veggies may also help you sleep well because they enhance your waking hours and give you energy during the day time, such as motivation to work out which can help you sleep at night.
10. Milk and Yogurt
Milk, and other dairy products such as yogurt or kefir, are high in protein as well as certain compounds like tryptophan that assist in your body making melatonin. Additionally, yogurt or kefir (which is fermented milk) contains probiotics that aid in digestive health and immune system health, which can keep you generally feeling well overall.
11. Spices Like Turmeric, Ginger, Cinnamon
Many people find that a creamy, warm and soothing cup of “golden milk” before bedtime is a great snack for feeling more soothed and sleepy. Golden milk is made with traditional spices including turmeric, ginger and cinnamon that have warming, grounding and healthy inflammation-supporting effects.
A balanced diet that promotes restful sleep should provide you with plenty of essential vitamins and minerals which energize your daytime hours. Similar to leafy greens, beets are high in nutrients that can help fuel your muscles and brain, including nitric oxide, which supports healthy blood flow.
Kiwis are high in potassium, antioxidants and vitamin C, which are nutrients that can help support a healthy immune system. Because nutrient-dense fruits support a healthy immune system, they can potentially help support good sleep.
14. Berries and Cherries
All types of berries and tart cherries naturally contain carbohydrates and are a good source of essential minerals that can help support restful sleep, and have melatonin that can be beneficial. Some fruits also have a fair amount of carbs, and some say carbs are necessary for a good night’s sleep.
Supplements for Healthy Sleep Support
Certain nutrients, botanical ingredients and adaptogenic herbs have long been used in traditional health approaches to help people support healthy sleep, such as passion flower, ashwagandha, lavender and magnesium. Here are some sleep supplements to try adding to your routine:
- Ashwagandha — This adaptogen can help support the body’s ability to adapt to stress, promotes relaxation and more restful sleep, and supports healthy energy levels during the day. It’s one of the main ingredients featured in our Stress and Sleep Capsules
- Magnesium — Magnesium may help promote mental relaxation and help reduce muscle tension and feelings of stress.
- Protein powders (such as Multi Collagen Protein or Bone Broth Protein) — Protein powders are full of amino acids, which as mentioned earlier, the body uses to create relaxing chemicals like melatonin and serotonin. And because protein is an essential micronutrient, it can also aid in supporting overall mental clarity and concentration during the daytime.
- Lavender essential oil — Lavender oil can be diffused in your home or rubbed into your skin (per label directions) or even your bed sheets to help you feel calmer and grounded before going to sleep.
Foods to Avoid Before Bed
Because the processed foods below can disrupt healthy digestion and interrupt a healthy response to inflammation, it’s best to limit them in your diet:
- Excess alcohol
- Too much caffeine, which is a stimulant
- Added sugars, found in desserts, sugary drinks, many snack bars, yogurts, etc.
- Hydrogenated fats and some saturated fat like trans fats, found in fast foods and other fried products, processed snack foods, frozen breakfast products, cookies, donuts, crackers and most stick margarines.
- High omega 6 oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, peanut oils
- Refined carbohydrates/white flour products, including most breads, rolls, crackers and cereals
- For some people, food allergens including gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye grains, or dairy products which may be difficult for some to break down
- Artificial sweeteners including aspartame, which can be hard to digest
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for six years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.