Top 7 Foods to Help You Sleep Better

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In our fast-paced world, where stress and daily demands can often disrupt our sleep patterns, finding natural ways to improve the quality of our rest is more critical than ever. While lifestyle factors like stress management and a bedtime routine play essential roles in a good night’s sleep, the impact of our diet should not be underestimated. Certain foods possess unique properties that can help us relax, reduce sleep disturbances, and even enhance the overall duration and quality of our slumber.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the realm of nighttime nutrition and explore a carefully selected list of foods that have been shown to promote better sleep. From the well-known sleep-inducing qualities of warm milk to the lesser-known benefits of cherries and herbal teas, we’ll uncover the science behind these foods and provide practical tips on how to incorporate them into your evening routine.

Discover how the right choices at dinnertime or as bedtime snacks can lead to more restful nights and brighter mornings. Say goodbye to restless tossing and turning, and embrace the soothing power of sleep-promoting foods to unlock a world of rejuvenating slumber.

Improving your sleep quality can often be influenced by your diet. Here are seven foods that can help you sleep better:

Cherries:

Cherries, particularly tart cherries, are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels typically rise in the evening, signaling to your body that it’s time to sleep. Consuming cherries or cherry juice before bedtime can increase melatonin levels, helping you fall asleep faster and maintain a more consistent sleep pattern.

  • When: Consume cherries or cherry juice in the evening, preferably an hour or two before bedtime. This timing aligns with the natural rise in melatonin levels that occurs as your body prepares for sleep.
  • How: You can eat fresh cherries or drink tart cherry juice. Be mindful of the sugar content in cherry juice, and choose unsweetened varieties if possible to avoid consuming excess sugar close to bedtime.
  • Disadvantages: Cherries are generally safe to eat, but if consumed excessively, the natural sugars in cherries could contribute to weight gain or blood sugar spikes. Additionally, some people may be allergic to cherries, so it’s important to be mindful of any adverse reactions.

Cherries and Melatonin: A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2011 found that tart cherry juice increased melatonin levels and improved sleep duration and quality in adults with chronic insomnia. (Pigeon, W. R., Carr, M., Gorman, C., & Perlis, M. L. (2010). Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. Journal of Medicinal Food, 13(3), 579-583.)

Bananas:

Bananas are a sleep-friendly fruit for several reasons. They contain both magnesium and potassium, which act as natural muscle relaxants. This can help reduce muscle tension and cramps that might otherwise disrupt your sleep. Additionally, bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts into serotonin and melatonin, contributing to relaxation and better sleep.

  • When: Bananas can be eaten in the evening or as part of a light bedtime snack.
  • How: Eat a ripe banana on its own or add it to a small bowl of low-sugar yogurt or oatmeal. Combining it with a source of protein or healthy fat , like a handful of almonds, can provide a more balanced snack that helps maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  • Disadvantages: Bananas are nutritious, but they are also calorie-dense due to their natural sugar content. Overeating bananas, especially in the evening, could contribute to weight gain or elevated blood sugar levels, particularly in individuals with diabetes.

Bananas and Tryptophan: While bananas contain tryptophan, the effect on sleep is not as well-documented as some other foods. However, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, both of which are involved in sleep regulation.

Almonds:

Almonds are rich in magnesium, which plays a vital role in muscle relaxation and nerve function. A magnesium deficiency can lead to sleep problems and muscle cramps. Consuming a small handful of almonds as a bedtime snack can help relax your muscles and maintain stable blood sugar levels during the night, reducing the chances of waking up due to discomfort or fluctuations in blood sugar.

  • When: Almonds can be consumed as a bedtime snack, but be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating.
  • How: A small handful (about 1 ounce or 23 almonds) is typically sufficient. You can eat them on their own or pair them with a piece of fruit like a banana or apple.
  • Disadvantages: Almonds are calorie-dense and high in healthy fats. While they can be a healthy snack, consuming large quantities, especially at night, might lead to excess calorie intake. Additionally, some individuals may have nut allergies, so caution is advised.

Almonds and Magnesium: Magnesium is known to contribute to muscle relaxation and sleep. A study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences in 2012 suggested that magnesium supplementation improved sleep quality in elderly adults. (Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161-1169.)

Fatty Fish (Salmon, Tuna):

Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce inflammation in the body, including in the brain. Chronic inflammation can contribute to sleep disturbances and conditions like insomnia . Omega-3s can also stabilize mood, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • When: Include fatty fish in your dinner or evening meal.
  • How: Grilled or baked salmon or tuna makes for a delicious and nutritious dinner. Avoid frying or overly rich sauces, as these can be heavy and potentially disrupt your sleep if consumed too close to bedtime.
  • Disadvantages: Fatty fish are generally considered healthy, but if prepared with excessive oils or rich sauces, they can become calorie-dense. Overconsumption of fatty fish might contribute to excessive calorie intake if not balanced with other foods in your diet.

Fatty Fish and Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with improved sleep quality. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research in 2014 found that higher omega-3 intake was associated with better sleep. (Montgomery, P., Burton, J. R., Sewell, R. P., Spreckelsen, T. F., & Richardson, A. J. (2014). Low blood long chain omega‐3 fatty acids in UK children are associated with poor cognitive performance and behavior: a cross‐sectional analysis from the DOLAB study. PLoS ONE, 9(6), e98797.)

Oats:

Oats are a complex carbohydrate that can boost the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of relaxation and well-being. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep. By consuming oats, you can encourage your body to produce more of these sleep-promoting compounds.

  • When: Oats are best consumed in the evening as part of a light meal or snack.
  • How: Prepare a bowl of warm oatmeal with a touch of honey or a sprinkle of cinnamon. Avoid adding excessive sugar or caffeine, as they can interfere with sleep.
  • Disadvantages: Oats are nutritious, but flavored or sweetened oatmeal can contain added sugars that may not be suitable for those watching their sugar intake. Additionally, overeating oats in large portions may lead to excess calorie consumption.

Oats and Serotonin: Oats contain complex carbohydrates that can promote the production of serotonin, which, in turn, can contribute to better sleep. The relationship between oats and serotonin production is indirect, and specific studies on oats’ direct impact on sleep are limited.

Herbal Teas (Chamomile, Valerian, Lavender):

Various herbal teas, such as chamomile, valerian, and lavender, have soothing and calming effects. Chamomile contains compounds that bind to receptors in the brain, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. Valerian has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for insomnia and anxiety. Lavender’s aroma can have a mild sedative effect. These teas can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep.

  • When: Herbal teas can be consumed in the hour leading up to bedtime.
  • How: Steep a tea bag or loose tea leaves in hot water for several minutes, and enjoy it without added sugar or caffeine. Chamomile is known for its calming properties, while valerian and lavender teas may also help you relax.
  • Disadvantages: Herbal teas are generally safe, but some individuals may be sensitive or allergic to specific herbs. It’s essential to choose teas that agree with your body and avoid excessive caffeine or sugar in any added flavorings.

Herbal Teas: Various studies have examined the calming and sleep-promoting effects of herbal teas like chamomile and valerian. For instance, a review of studies published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2010 found that chamomile extract was associated with improved sleep quality. (Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports, 3(6), 895-901.)

Kiwi:

Kiwi is a nutrient-rich fruit that supports better sleep in several ways. It’s a good source of vitamins C and E, which are antioxidants that protect the body from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can disrupt sleep. Kiwi also contains serotonin precursors, which can increase the production of this sleep-inducing neurotransmitter. Additionally, the fiber in kiwi can help regulate blood sugar levels, preventing nighttime blood sugar fluctuations that might wake you up.

  • When: Kiwi can be eaten as a bedtime snack or as part of your evening meal.
  • How: Simply peel and slice a ripe kiwi. Eating one or two kiwis an hour or so before bedtime can potentially aid in sleep. Be mindful of not consuming excessive quantities, as overeating can lead to discomfort and disrupt sleep.
  • Disadvantages: Kiwi is a nutritious fruit, but overconsumption, like with any food, can lead to excess calorie intake. Additionally, some individuals may be allergic to kiwi or experience digestive discomfort if they consume large quantities.

Kiwi: A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 investigated the effects of kiwi consumption on sleep. The study found that participants who ate kiwi on a regular basis experienced improved sleep onset, duration, and efficiency. (Lin, H. H., Tsai, P. S., Fang, S. C., & Liu, J. F. (2011). Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 20(2), 169-174.)

While these foods can support better sleep, it’s essential to maintain a balanced diet and pay attention to portion sizes, as heavy or large meals close to bedtime can disrupt sleep. Additionally, individual responses to foods may vary, so it’s a good idea to experiment with these options and see which ones work best for you. Incorporating these sleep-promoting foods into your diet, along with other healthy sleep habits, can help you achieve a more restful night’s sleep.

Disadvantages of Eating Fruits before Bed

While many fruits can have beneficial effects when consumed at night, there can also be potential disadvantages to eating certain fruits in the evening, depending on individual circumstances. Here are some considerations:

  1. Digestive Discomfort: Some fruits are high in fiber, which can be difficult to digest for some individuals, especially when consumed in large quantities. Eating too much fiber-rich fruit late at night might lead to digestive discomfort, gas, or bloating.
  2. Acid Reflux: Certain acidic fruits, such as citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits) and tomatoes, can trigger acid reflux or heartburn in some people, particularly if consumed too close to bedtime. Acid reflux can disrupt sleep and cause discomfort.
  3. Caloric Intake: While fruits are generally considered healthy, they still contain calories. Consuming a large portion of calorie-dense fruits at night, especially if you’ve already met your daily caloric needs, can lead to weight gain over time.
  4. Blood Sugar Levels: Fruits contain natural sugars, and some can have a relatively high glycemic index, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. This quick spike, followed by a crash, may lead to disrupted sleep and increased hunger during the night.
  5. Diabetes or Blood Sugar Issues: Individuals with diabetes or blood sugar control issues should be cautious about consuming fruits high in sugar late at night, as it can affect blood glucose levels.
  6. Allergies and Sensitivities: Some people may have allergies or sensitivities to specific fruits. Consuming these fruits at night could trigger allergic reactions or gastrointestinal discomfort.

To minimize potential disadvantages and maximize the benefits of eating fruits at night:

  • Portion Control: Stick to moderate portions, and avoid excessive consumption of fruits, particularly those high in fiber or sugar.
  • Choose Wisely: Select fruits that are less likely to cause digestive issues or acid reflux, such as berries, bananas, or melons, rather than highly acidic options.
  • Timing: Eat fruits at least an hour or two before bedtime to allow for digestion and reduce the risk of discomfort or reflux during sleep.
  • Balance Your Diet: Ensure that your overall daily diet is balanced and includes a variety of foods from different food groups to meet your nutritional needs.
  • Consult a Healthcare Provider: If you have specific dietary concerns, allergies, or medical conditions, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider or registered dietitian for personalized guidance on when and what to eat.

Ultimately, the impact of eating fruits at night varies from person to person, and it’s essential to consider your individual health, dietary preferences, and tolerance for certain foods. Listening to your body and making informed choices can help you enjoy the benefits of nighttime fruit consumption while minimizing potential disadvantages.

What to Avoid:

  • Caffeine and Sugary Foods: Avoid consuming caffeine-containing beverages like coffee or energy drinks in the afternoon or evening. Also, steer clear of sugary snacks and desserts close to bedtime, as they can cause blood sugar spikes and disrupt sleep.
  • Large, Heavy Meals: Avoid large, heavy meals within a few hours of bedtime. These can lead to indigestion and discomfort, making it harder to fall asleep.
  • Alcohol: While alcohol may initially make you feel drowsy, it can disrupt the second half of your sleep cycle and lead to poorer sleep quality. It’s best to limit alcohol consumption, especially in the evening.
  • Spicy or Acidic Foods: Spicy or acidic foods can cause heartburn or acid reflux, which can disrupt sleep. Avoid consuming these types of foods too close to bedtime.

Conclusion: Embracing Nighttime Nutrition for a Sounder Sleep

In the quest for a peaceful night’s sleep, we’ve explored the fascinating world of nighttime nutrition, uncovering a treasure trove of sleep-promoting foods. From cherries and bananas to herbal teas and fatty fish, these dietary choices offer natural solutions to common sleep woes.

As our busy lives continue to demand more of us, it’s crucial to harness every available tool to ensure restorative sleep. While no single food holds the key to a perfect night’s rest, the combination of mindful eating, balanced nutrition, and sleep-friendly choices can help pave the way to improved sleep quality.

Remember, the key lies not only in what you eat but also in when and how you consume these sleep-promoting foods. Strive for moderation, avoid overindulgence, and be mindful of any allergies or sensitivities you may have. Additionally, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, managing stress, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine are essential components of a holistic approach to better sleep.

In the end, embracing nighttime nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a valuable piece that can complement your overall efforts to achieve a night of uninterrupted, restful slumber. So, why not start tonight? Experiment with these sleep-friendly foods, personalize your bedtime rituals, and embark on a journey to unlock the full potential of your sleep for a brighter, more energized tomorrow. Sweet dreams await.