11 Best Foods To Help You Sleep Better

Posted: June 16, 2022

It is well-known that a good night’s sleep is extremely important for your health. But did you know that there are sleep-inducing foods, in other words, foods that make you sleepy before bed, that can help you fall asleep faster?

A bed with a window discussing the best foods to make you sleep better.

Getting good sleep is very important for your overall health. Medically reviewed studies show that a good night’s sleep can reduce your risk of developing certain chronic illnesses, support your immune system, and help fight depression and anxiety.

In general, it is recommended to get between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. However, even more important than the duration of sleep is the quality of sleep you’re getting. In order to understand your sleep better, you need to have a general understanding of the sleep cycle.

What Is the Sleep Cycle?

Sleep is not consistent throughout the night. Instead, over the course of the night, you go through four different stages. In a typical night, a person goes through four to six sleep cycles. Not all sleep cycles are the same length, but on average they last about 90 minutes each.

The four stages of the sleep cycle are:

NREM Stage N1, NREM Stage N2, NREM Stage N3 and REM Stage R. 

NREM sleep happens first and contains 3 stages (NREM Stage N1, NREM Stage N2, and NREM Stage N3). The last stage of NREM is when you are in deep sleep and it’s hard to wake up at this stage. The body is fully relaxed and this is where tissue repair and cell regeneration happens.

REM sleep happens about an hour to an 1.5 hours after falling asleep. This is the primary dreaming stage.

Chemical signals in the brain influence our sleep cycles and anything that shifts the balance of these neurotransmitters can make us feel drowsier or more awake. This is where food and the chemicals in food play a role in the quality of your sleep.

Before we discuss some of the best foods to eat at night, it is important to share some general knowledge of the specific nutrients found in food that hugely impact our sleep quality.

The Six Most Important Nutrients for Sleep

Image showing banana. Bananas are high in potassium which is a food for better sleep

Certain nutrients and hormones help promote sleep which include the following:

  1. Melatonin: makes you sleepy.
  2. Tryptophan: promotes serotonin production.
  3. Serotonin: a chemical precursor to melatonin.
  4. Potassium: has a calming effect.
  5. Magnesium: help promote muscle relaxation.
  6. Calcium: helps the body use the amino acid tryptophan and has a sedative effect that helps ease the body into sleep.

Now that you know the certain nutrients and hormones that help to promote sleep, let’s talk about the different foods that contain these sleep-inducing nutrients.

11 Best Foods To Help You Sleep Better

Banana

One of the best foods for deep sleep are bananas. This is because they contain tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid. The fruit itself is also a good source of magnesium and potassium, both of which help you get a good night’s sleep. 

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish contain substantial levels of omega-3 DHA which are essential for melatonin stimulation. Research shows that omega 3 fatty acids from consuming fish can boost sleep quality, help you sleep faster, fight insomnia and improves your daytime performance.

Fish that are rich in DHA and EPA include:

  • Anchovies
  • Bluefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon (especially wild-caught)
  • Sardines
  • Sturgeon
  • Lake trout
  • Tuna

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a good night snack and one of the best serotonin foods for sleep. This is because peanut butter is rich in tryptophan which converts to serotonin. Have a tablespoon on some whole grain bread for a well-rested night.

Herbal Tea

Drinking the right tea can help you relax and fall asleep so quickly. There are six specific herbs that have been shown to improve sleep and promote relaxation which include: valerian root, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, and magnolia bark.

Next time you’re at the grocery store, look for herbal teas with those ingredients to include in your calm and relaxing bedtime routine (unless you’re a mom and this is only imaginary HA).

Leafy Greens

You may be wondering if it is good to eat leafy vegetables at night and the answer is YES! Leafy greens are a good source of calcium which as mentioned before helps produce melatonin. Also leafy greens, especially lettuce, contain a compound called lactucarium which is also known as “lettuce opium.” This is a natural sedative that promotes relaxation and sleepiness. 

Chamomile Tea

This one may not surprise you since it’s very well known that chamomile tea is good for sleep. This is because it’s made from the chamomile plant which contains an antioxidant known as apigenin. This compound helps to induce muscle relaxation and sleep.  

Warm milk

Milk is a natural source of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan helps you sleep by boosting melatonin which is the chemical that promotes a regular sleep cycle. If you are lactose-intolerant like me, you can snack on some yogurt instead since the probiotics in yogurt contain high levels of the lactase enzyme which helps break down the lactose in the gut.

Yogurt

Other than having high levels of lactase, yogurt also contains calcium, which is a natural sleep aid that can help you fall asleep faster. 

Almonds

Almonds, along with some other tree nuts, contain melatonin and can boost serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical precursor to melatonin and serotonin is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is categorized as an essential amino acid because it can only enter your body through your diet. Therefore, Tryptophan deficiency can happen when you are not eating enough foods that are high in Tryptophan. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower serotonin levels which results in mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Grabbing a handful of nuts an hour before bed is a great snack for promoting sleep. In fact, nuts are some of the most melatonin-rich foods!

Turkey

Turkey is high in protein and high in tryptophan. There’s evidence that consuming moderate amounts of protein before bed is associated with better sleep quality. This could be due to feeling satiated before bed as going to bed hungry disrupts sleep.

Foods with high levels of vitamin B6 for sleep

This includes leafy greens, eggs, dairy, beans, poultry, meat and salmon. Vitamin B6 works to convert a some of the tryptophan to serotonin.

Foods to Avoid At Night For Better Sleep

Bowl of candy. Simple carbs and high glycemic index foods disrupt sleep quality

Simple carbs and saturated fats can disrupt sleep by making it harder to fall asleep. Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates usually also have a high glycemic index. Simple carbs include sweets and sodas. Also foods high in saturated fats, like fast foods, reduce serotonin and can be difficult to digest. Spicy foods are hard to digest and can cause acid reflux and lead to disruption of sleep. Finally caffeine and alcohol can lead to sleep disturbance by affecting the sleep cycle.

Bottom line

As covered in this blog post, certain foods contain specific nutrients that are considered sleep inducing and the list above were some of the best foods to help you sleep better. These nutrients and foods are interrelated and work with each other to ensure high sleep quality. Some of the major nutrients that will help you improve your sleep are melatonin, tryptophan, B complex vitamins, omega-3, magnesium and calcium. Foods that contain these nutrients are considered good food for sleep. Something that I personally like to do is combine some of the foods mentioned in this post. By combining nutrients, you can come up with some of the best bedtime snacks to help you sleep. 

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