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Sleep Tips: Eat This, Not That

Medically reviewed by Smita Patel, DO, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 19, 2023

How’s your sleep? If you’re struggling to get enough shut-eye, there are things you can do. Replacing an old mattress with one that’s medium-firm can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. So will vigorous exercise at least two hours before bedtime. Since blue-light emitting smartphones, desktops, and tablets trick your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up, you’ll want to put away your electronic devices at least an hour or two before you plan to close your eyes. Opt for reading a printed book instead. Still, no matter what steps you take, they probably won’t be sufficient if you’re eating certain foods. Here are some helpful sleep tips: Eat this, not that, and enjoy some restful slumber. 


Sleepy Foods


Studies have shown there are certain things you can eat or drink to improve your sleep. Here’s a few:


The Joy of Almonds


Almonds are one of nature’s superfoods. Packed with protein, nutrients, and healthy fats, they may also promote restful slumber. That’s partly because they contain melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that signals your body that it’s time to sleep. Almonds are also loaded with magnesium which may help if you have insomnia. That’s because besides regulating melatonin, the mineral has also been shown to reduce stress levels and aid in relaxation. Many people who struggle with sleep also struggle with anxiety, especially the nighttime worries that keep people awake. So a handful of almonds can really help.


Some Good Mooos


Moms have been giving a glass of warm milk to their restless offspring for millennia. As with many folk treatments, there is actual science to support the practice. Turns out milk is loaded with melatonin (as are other dairy products). Unless you’re lactose intolerant, a glass of milk can really help with the ZZZz. There’s even a type of milk called “Nighttime Milk.” This comes from cows who are milked in the evening when their melatonin levels are higher. One study of mice showed it really helped the little guys doze –– it might work for you as well! Other dairy products taken before bedtime can also help with falling and staying asleep. Milk also contains the amino acid tryptophan –– just like this next sleep-inducing food.


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Sleep Tips - Three Keys to Good Sleep

Sleep Tips - Three Keys to Good Sleep



Chances are if you can only name one amino acid, it’s tryptophan. Present in turkey, it gets the credit for all those folks nodding off after a gut-busting Thanksgiving Day meal. Sure the Detroit Lions game doesn’t help; neither does Grampa Joe’s annual recounting of events from the early 20th century. Still, there are studies showing tryptophan alone can induce sleep while protein has also been linked to better slumber. While a drumstick may not be everyone’s idea of an ideal late-night snack, a bit of fresh (not packaged) slices of turkey could help you sleep.


Tea Time 


A cup of warm herbal tea can help you gently nod off. Specifically, camomile tea contains an antioxidant called apigenin which can promote a sense of calm and help reduce insomnia. One study of elderly insomniacs showed results from a supplement, but most people prefer sipping a warm cup of tea at night over taking a pill. Either way, camomile has proven benefits.


There are plenty of other foods that can help you sleep. These include white rice, fatty fish, and kiwi. There are also foods that can interfere with your sleep. If your Body Mass Index is over 25, you are at an elevated risk for sleep problems as well.  However, one recent study suggests that if you’re struggling with your weight and sleep, then the Mediterranean Diet is worth considering. This mostly plant-based diet is focused on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat –– mainly chicken and fish. People who stick to this diet not only have better overall health but in one study of women who were overweight or obese, those who adhered to the Mediterranean Diet reported better sleep.


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Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet

What to Avoid


There are plenty of foods and beverages to avoid if you’re having trouble sleeping. Spicy food before bedtime is a bad idea. That midnight curry is going to wreak havoc on your digestive system and your slumber. Alcohol can interfere with REM sleep, that deep state where you are dreaming and your body and mind are recovering the most. Caffeine is fine during the day, but your last cup of coffee should be in the early afternoon. That’s because caffeine has a very long half-life and can stay in your system for up to nine hours. 


Avoid high-carb foods and heavy meals which may help you fall asleep but will prevent the deep, quality sleep your body needs. In general, the food and beverages recommended for great sleep are also great for your overall health. So trying a few of them is a good idea. 


Written by John Bankston

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