Foods That Help You Fall Asleep

Foods That Help You Fall Asleep

By Mary Lee from Tuck Sleep

If you've ever dozed off after a big meal, you know food can influence how well you sleep. But it's not just quantity of food that matters for sleep, it's quality, too. Choosing the best foods for rest can help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep, and get your best quality sleep.  

Research tells us foods with tryptophan, or foods that impact melatonin or serotonin production may help sleep. It's important to incorporate these foods into your diet to support healthy sleep.

 Photo courtesy of Dr. Axe

Photo courtesy of Dr. Axe

Tryptophan

You're probably familiar with tryptophan's sleepy effect from Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey is a source of tryptophan (and we often eat large portions and starches along with it), so it's common to feel sleepy after a big turkey dinner. But it's not the only food source with tryptophan.

Tryptophan helps the brain produce serotonin, which can induce a deeper and more restful sleep when combined with melatonin.

Good sources of tryptophan include:

  • Milk and dairy products

  • Fish - wild caught salmon, cod

  • Beans

  • Eggs - cage free, organic

  • Nuts - cashew, walnuts, sesame seeds

  • Banans

  • Potatoes

  • 100% whole grain oats, rice, quinoa

  • Spirulina

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Carbohydrates

Another way to get the benefits of tryptophan is with carbs, which facilitate tryptophan production. It's a good idea to combine complex carbohydrates with proteins and healthy fats, which can keep your blood sugar stable through the night and encourage sleepiness. Consider these carbohydrate-rich foods:

  • Milk and dairy products

  • Whole wheat bread

  • Starchy fruits and vegetables, such as bananas or potatoes

  • Pasta

  • Rice, preferably basmati, brown or black rice

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Melatonin

The hormone melatonin helps signal to your body when it's time to fall asleep. Studies have found tart cherry juice are helpful for insomnia and walnuts are helpful for increasing melatonin levels in your body. Other foods that may increase melatonin production include:

  • Oats

  • Tomatoes

  • Bananas

  • Spinach

  • Almonds

 Photo courtesy of  MomJunction

Photo courtesy of MomJunction

Calcium

Calcium may improve the quality of your sleep. Researchers have found that calcium deficiency can lead to disturbed REM sleep, so foods rich in calcium can help keep you asleep. Calcium is available in:

  • Milk and dairy products

  • Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.  Peas

  • Nuts, such as almonds

  • Beans

  • Seeds

  • Soy - organic, non-GMO

  • Wild caught fish like salmon

  • Oranges

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Good Sleep Food

The best foods for sleep combine melatonin, calcium, carbohydrates, and tryptophan, such as milk.   This is one of the reasons, milk is a favorite beverage of children before going to sleep.  Enjoy a well rounded plate in the evening for a good night's sleep.  It is best to eat dinner 3-4 hrs before going to sleep, so the body can begin digestion without interfering with sleep.  Here are some examples of foods that contain higher amounts of the aforementioned key components:

  • Milk and dairy products

  • Nuts

  • Beans

  • Oats

  • Bananas

 Photo courtesy of  Dr. Greene

Photo courtesy of Dr. Greene

Supporting Healthy Sleep

Although the right food can help you sleep better, it's not the only factor in a good night's sleep. Support healthy sleep with these tips:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up around the same time each night and day for consistency, which will make it easier for you to get to sleep at night. You should follow a regular bedtime routine as well.  START the school routine now.  DON'T wait until the first day of school.

  • Sleep on the right mattress. A good bed can make all the difference in the quality of your sleep. Make sure you're sleeping on a mattress that's appropriate for your needs. It's a good idea to test out mattresses at the store before you commit, and take advantage of sleep trials that allow you to return the bed if it's not a good fit for your needs.

  • Practice healthy sleep hygiene. Avoid sleep pitfalls including late-night screen time or exercise, and late night alcohol or caffeine.

  • No devices in bedrooms.  Yes, that means no phones in parent rooms either.  

  • Relieve stress. Stress can make it difficult to get a good night's sleep, keeping you up at night with worry and making you feel too wired to sleep. Manage your stress with relaxation exercises including yoga, meditation, and journaling.

About the author:  

Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She specializes in sleep's role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.