The Foods That Help You Sleep

Foods That Help You Sleep

Sleep may be one of the most basic of biological functions, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get a full seven hours. The factors that contribute to good sleep for both adults and children range from a supportive mattress and bedroom conditions to meal timing and the nutritional content of your food. It’s the power of food that we want to focus on. The body goes through complex chemical processes to begin and maintain the sleep cycle. And, it needs the right nutritional fuel to get a full night’s rest. 

We’ve put together some of the key nutrients needed for sleep along with the foods that contain them. You can eat these foods throughout the day or give yourself a quick sleep boost by eating a light snack before bed.

Tryptophan: More Than Turkey

As soon as the word tryptophan gets thrown around, everyone thinks of the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey does have tryptophan, but not as much as you might think. And there are far better sources of this vital amino acid. The body uses tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, the main hormone responsible for controlling the sleep cycle. Tryptophan can be found in:

  • Seeds and nuts (pumpkin and squash seeds)
  • Soybeans
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Foods That Help You Sleep

Calcium: Health and Better Sleep

Calcium and tryptophan go hand in hand. In fact, tryptophan can’t enter the brain without calcium, which is why dairy products, which contain both calcium and tryptophan, are a top sleep-inducing food. They make an excellent late night snack as long as they are of the low-fat variety. To refresh your memory, and give you extra calcium-rich ideas, try:

  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Sardines
  • Canned salmon
  • Almonds
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach

Foods That Help You Sleep

Don’t Forget Magnesium

People who suffer from insomnia are often magnesium deficient. Magnesium is used by the parasympathetic nervous system to calm and relax the body. The body also uses it to stabilize the chemical process that produces melatonin. You’ve already seen a few of these foods on our lists of sleep savvy nutrients, but some of them are good sources of magnesium too:

  • Avocado
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas

Foods That Help You Sleep

Take In a Little Potassium Too

Potassium is another nutrient the body needs to regulate the sleep cycle. Like magnesium, it aids sleep in a more indirect way than tryptophan or calcium by acting as a muscle regulator and stabilizer. Part of its regulatory duties includes helping the muscles relax and it’s a good way to prevent muscle cramps and spasms, which can be sleep disruptors in and of themselves. Potassium-rich foods are often laden with other sleep-friendly nutrients so don’t hesitate to add in:

  • Bananas
  • Salmon
  • Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Leafy greens

Foods That Help You Sleep


While what you eat is important, it’s also imperative to think about when you’re eating it. The success of your sleep cycle largely depends on developing a predictable pattern of behavior. That’s why going to bed at the same time every day is one of the first suggestions for sleep problems.

That same thinking holds true for meal times and snacks. The body uses the timing of your meals to help regulate the start and duration of the sleep cycle. Eating your meals and snacks at regular intervals and around the same time every day can give your sleep cycle an extra boost.

Beyond that, make sure you eat a variety of foods that include the nutrients needed to fuel sleep. The right sleep-supportive nutrients consistently eaten can’t help but produce better, more restful sleep.

Written by Amy Highland

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

Article Date: July 2019


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