Foods & Drinks That Can Help You Sleep Better at Night

Tara Youngblood Feb 02, 2022

Foods that can help sleep

Getting your body and mind settled down for a good night’s sleep can often take some doing. Hectic workdays and busy home life can interfere, keeping us revved up and high-wired far into the nighttime hours. The next day? You guessed it. Fatigue, lack of concentration, and irritability put a wrench in your plans to be productive and enjoy your friends and family.

Yes, lack of sleep is a definite fun-buster.

Eating the right foods and drinking the right beverages may help you wind down and sleep more soundly, giving you more energy and better focus to tackle the challenges of the next day. Furthermore, if exercise is in your routine, the good sleep that you get at night has a major positive impact on meeting and exceeding your fitness goals.

Foods That Can Help You Sleep

The following list of sleep-promoting nutrients, minerals, and hormones is supported by medical research as well as the opinions of sleep experts. We’ll share with you the foods and beverages that contain high levels of these amazing substances. Consuming healthy snacks and making simple dietary changes may help achieve long-term improvements in sleep patterns.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that is very important in regulating the circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep-wake cycle. The pineal gland releases melatonin when the time for sleep approaches. As morning approaches, melatonin levels decrease, signaling to the body that it is time to awaken.

Although melatonin production is affected by the cycle of darkness and light, certain foods and beverages contain high amounts of melatonin.

  • Tart cherries
  • Tart cherry juice
  • Certain nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios)

Study: 16 oz of cherry juice could result in a decrease in insomnia. [1]

Research has determined that levels of melatonin production decrease with age. Thus, the increased nighttime awakenings and poor sleep patterns that plague older adults may be directly related to the progressive depletion of this sleep hormone.

Tryptophan Foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that contains protein. Dairy products have high amounts of tryptophan. Meats, such as turkey, also contain tryptophan. (Although your ‘food coma’ after Thanksgiving dinner was more likely due to the massive size of that yearly feast). This powerful amino acid plays a role in the production of serotonin, the end-product of which is melatonin. These foods and beverages pack the tryptophan:

Milk:

Does warm milk help you sleep better? This old remedy is still a popular choice due to the amount of tryptophan. Once consumed, it’s converted to melatonin, which helps our natural sleep state.

Yogurt:

Avoid yogurts high in sugar because they can interfere with your blood sugar levels. Having a spike may counteract the tryptophan in yogurts. Additionally, avoid yogurts with high protein close to bedtime. This can wake up your brain, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Other Sources of Tryptophan

  • Cheese
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Fish

We recommend choosing low-fat versions of meats and cheeses. Sometimes, higher-fat foods lead to wakefulness.

Foods High in Magnesium

Magnesium helps to produce melatonin, that all-important sleep hormone. Additionally, it may play a role in reducing inflammation, which can improve sleep quality. Foods that contain high amounts of magnesium are:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Seafood
  • Leafy greens
  • Bananas

Research also supports the value of magnesium as a factor in reducing cortisol, a stress hormone that can interrupt sleep. [2]

What Foods Are High In Iron

Iron is necessary to transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency is common in young women. Some research indicates that decreased iron levels degrade sleep quality. It can also cause a medical condition called restless leg syndrome (RLS), which severely disrupts sleep. In addition to chicken, beef, fish, there are vegetarian sources of iron:

  • Beans
  • Greens

Study: 68% of those with iron-deficiency anemia had problems sleeping. [3]

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs are a better choice than the simple carbohydrates found in sweets, white bread, and plain pasta. This is because simple carbs tend to decrease serotonin, a critical precursor to melatonin production in the body. Examples of complex carbohydrates include:

Whole grain bread, pasta, crackers Brown rice Barley Rolled oats

*Barley and rolled oats also have a healthy dose of melatonin.

Vitamin C

Low vitamin C levels have been linked to an increased tendency to wake during the night. This interferes with the ability to proceed through all sleep cycles effectively during the night.

Most vegetables have some levels of Vitamin C, including:

  • Kale
  • Zucchini
  • Bell peppers

Vitamin C, like magnesium, is believed to be a factor in reducing the stress hormone, cortisol.

Fruits That Can Improve Sleep

There are certain fruits that you can eat before bed. Including a few of the following in your evening meals can help improve sleep quality over time.

  • Pineapples
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Berries

Drinks That Help You Sleep

Warm beverages including herbal teas/fresh herbs have a calming effect and seem to signal the body that it’s time to wind down and get to sleep. Clinical research tends to support the use of certain decaffeinated herbs.23

Chamomile Tea:

This tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that has been proven to reduce anxiety. Also, it has been shown to improve overall sleep quality. Those who drink this tea may also suffer from fewer depressive symptoms. Depression is a major contributor to disturbed sleep.

Study: Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. [4]

Passionflower Tea:

Like chamomile, passionflower tea contains apigenin. Interestingly, the anti-oxidant does its job by binding to certain receptors in the brain and producing a calming effect.

In addition to its anti-oxidant powers, this special tea has been shown to increase the production of the brain chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA can prevent other brain chemicals from inducing stress.

Fresh Herbs

Sage and basil in particular can have a calming effect and reduce tension. You can do almost anything with fresh herbs. Try mixing them with yogurt or cream cheese to get a dose of tryptophan in addition to the calm you get from herbs.

Embracing Healthy Sleep Habits

When it comes to utilizing food and drink to improve your nighttime routine, there is no magic bullet. Try to keep the big picture in mind. This means making dietary choices that are healthy and nutrient-rich, as well as those that promote sleep.

Eating at Night

Eat early in the evening so that you are fully digested prior to bedtime. If you eat late (it happens to all of us), choose foods that aren’t fried, fatty, or spicy. This will help you avoid acid reflux, another sleep-destroyer. We also suggest that you choose non-caffeinated, non-sugary beverages in the evenings.

The sleep environment and daily routines that establish those consistent, restful, and uninterrupted ZZ’s are known as sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene is a major factor in getting the most out of sleep. We encourage you to make the choice of a healthy environment that is conducive to a good night’s sleep, including mattresses, pillows, and a darkened room.

Read More: How to Get More Deep Sleep

In Conclusion: Take the Journey

Nutritional and sleep science continues to change and evolve. Every day, we learn more about sleep hormones, nutrients, and the specialized neurotransmitters that relax, rejuvenate, and renew us.

One thing that all research is consistent about, however, is that there are a myriad of easy-to-get, inexpensive beverages and foods that might make you sleep at night better and promote better quality. Just as important is what we have learned to help establish an excellent overall sleep routine.

We invite you to take the joyous journey to that sweet spot of perfect sleep.

Citations

[1] 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. Website: https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2009.0096

[2] Zeng, Y., Yang, J., Du, J., Pu, X., Yang, X., Yang, S., & Yang, T. (2014). Strategies of Functional Foods Promote Sleep in Human Being. Current signal transduction therapy, 9(3), 148–155. Website: https://doi.org/10.2174/1574362410666150205165504

[3] Murat, S., Ali, U., Serdal, K., Süleyman, D., ?lknur, P., Mehmet, S., Bahattin, A., & Tunahan, U. (2015). Assessment of subjective sleep quality in iron deficiency anaemia. African health sciences, 15(2), 621–627. Website: https://doi.org/10.4314/ahs.v15i2.40

[4] 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. Website: https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377