9 Foods That Can Help You Sleep Better

Cameron Hooper Mind, Nutrition

trouble sleeping

Let’s face it, we all could use a better night’s sleep.

And as you may know, sleep deprivation can lead to some serious health problems. Not to mention that being tired all day just downright sucks.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 40% of Americans experience the symptoms of insomnia within a given year. That means almost half of Americans aren’t getting the rest they need.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. From hacking your circadian rhythm to taking supplements such as magnesium, it’s possible to get a quality night’s sleep. Even just looking for a different mattress that will help you get to sleep faster as it is more comfortable. The correct mattress can help stop pain and increase sleep time, try look at this full size mattress to see if it can help you.

You just need to experiment with what works best for you— and it may be a combination of things.

Among the things that can help you sleep is a proper diet.

Your body needs certain nutrients to get a restful night’s sleep. So when you lack these particular nutrients, you may have trouble falling or staying asleep.

This is why it’s important to have a well-rounded and healthy diet. But that can be complicated.

That’s why I have made a list of the top 9 foods that will provide your body with the nutrients it needs for restful and restorative sleep:

1. Walnuts

Walnuts are surprisingly a good source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid.  Tryptophan is required for the production of two hormones called serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin and melatonin are important regulators of your body’s sleep / wake cycle, your circadian rhythm.

The point is, if your body’s production of serotonin or melatonin is slowed, your sleep will suffer. A common side effect of this is not being able to fall asleep at night when you go to lay down.

2. Almonds

Almonds are rich in magnesium, a mineral that’s required for more than 300 different (enzymatic) processes in the body. When it comes to your sleep, magnesium is required for muscle relaxation and the production of tryptophan.

In fact, if you have trouble sleeping, it could be that you have a magnesium deficiency. Insomnia and other sleep disorders are often the result of a lack of magnesium in the body.

One study even suggested that supplementing magnesium improves the symptoms of insomnia. Simply put, magnesium supplements can improve your ability to fall asleep at night.

Even though food containing magnesium may help improve your sleep, if you’re deficient in magnesium, food won’t be enough. You may need to supplement.

So if you’re having trouble sleeping, it may help look at the classic signs of a magnesium deficiency. It’s certainly worth checking out considering almost 80% of people are deficient in magnesium–I was unknowingly among them for some time.

3. Lettuce

Having a salad with dinner could actually help you drift into a deep sleep. Lettuce contains a natural chemical called lactucarium, which has sleep-inducing properties. It also affects the brain in a way that’s similar to opium!

To take full advantage of this effect, you can even make a tea with lettuce and mint. Just simmer 3-4 large lettuce leaves in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add two sprigs of fresh mint.  Be sure to include the lettuce stems because they contain the highest levels of lactucarium.

Sip on this before you go to bed, and you will be dozing off in no time.

But for those of you who aren’t adventurous enough to try the tea, you can also try a wild-lettuce extract. Wild-lettuce contains the highest levels of lactucarium compared to any other lettuce that I know of.

4. Wild Salmon 

I’m always skeptical to mention seafood products due to unsustainable fishing practices. But the truth is, fish can also help promote restful sleep.

Fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut are high in vitamin B6 which is required for the production of melatonin.

But if your diet prevents you from eating fish, you can also get a decent amount of vitamin B6 from raw garlic and pistachio nuts—one of my favorites might I add.

5. Tart Cherry Juice

[It turns out that drinking tart cherry juice can also help improve your sleep.

In one study, participants who drank two 1 ounce servings of tart cherry juice per day experienced an increase in sleep efficiency as well as a 39-minute increase in average sleep duration. The effect of tart cherry juice was described to be as effective as the common natural sleep supplement, valerian.

It’s thought that tart cherry juice can improve your sleep because it naturally contains melatonin and tryptophan.

Tart cherries also contain a phytochemical called proanthocyanidins. It’s the chemical that gives cherries their ruby red color.

Proanythocyanidins contain an enzyme that reduces inflammation and decreases the rate at which tryptophan breaks down in the body. As a result, tryptophan can work its sleep-inducing ‘magic’ for a longer period of time.

So if you’re looking for natural ways to improve your sleep, tart cherry juice may be a great addition to your sleep-improving trick bag.

6. Spinach and Kale

Not only are spinach and kale rich in potassium and magnesium, they are also high in calcium.

Similar to vitamin B6, magnesium, and tryptophan, calcium is required for the production of melatonin.

7. Hummus

Chick peas, or in their delicious form as hummus, are another great source of tryptophan.

So instead of having a sugar-filled desert after dinner, consider having some hummus and vegetables or sprouted grain crackers.

8. Bananas 

Bananas are loaded with the two minerals that promote muscle relaxation: potassium and magnesium.

Since a lack of magnesium is often associated with restless leg syndrome, muscle cramps, or even headaches, bananas could help you considering these problems can prevent you from sleeping.

8. Milk

Drinking warm milk before bed at night to make you sleepy is an age-old folk remedy.

But does it actually work?

Some studies have found that melatonin-rich milk consumed at night can help the elderly, who are usually deficient in melatonin, sleep slightly better.

Other experts argue that milk doesn’t have an effect—they believe that it’s purely psychological or a placebo effect. In other words, because we think it will make us sleepy, we get sleepy.

Furthermore, consuming high protein foods actually slows down your body’s use of tryptophan by making it difficult for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.

While the evidence doesn’t seem to lean one way or another, the true test would be to try it yourself (if you’re not lactose intolerant). Next time you’re about to go to bed, gently warm up a small cup of raw organic grass-fed milk (or even goats milk).

If it works, great! If not, just try something else. All that matters is if it works for you or not. It doesn’t matter what the evidence says if it works for you personally.

9. Combining Carbs With Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Remember how tryptophan is required for the production of the two hormones serotonin and melatonin? These hormones are made in a structure in your brain called the pineal gland.

The point is, tryptophan needs to cross something called the blood-brain barrier to get to the pineal gland. The barrier is similar to a filter in that it only lets certain things into the brain.

When you eat carbs, it increases the flow through the blood-brain barrier which makes it easier for tryptophan to get to the pineal gland.

By combining foods that are rich in carbohydrates with tryptophan-dense foods, you can help your body produce more serotonin and melatonin. As a result, your body will be able to regulate your sleep / wake cycle without being limited by a lack of hormones.

The point is, if you want to take advantage of the sleep boosting benefits of tryptophan-dense foods, you need to eat them with carbs such as ezekiel bread, brown rice, or any other food that isn’t protein-dense. If you go back and read the list again, you will notice that all the foods (besides the milk and salmon) contain carbs.

Here are a few examples to clear things up:

  • Ezekiel bread and hummus
  • Wild Salmon and brown rice
  • Walnuts and dried cranberries

Final Thoughts

Foods that contain vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, tryptophan, and calcium can help you sleep. But please be aware, that I’m not saying these foods will be as effective as a supplement or pharmaceutical sleep drug. The point of adding these foods to your diet would be to help promote a natural and healthy sleep cycle.

When you provide all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain a healthy sleep cycle, that’s one less thing that can interfere with your sleep.

But to get quality sleep, you need to eat the right foods and have the right behaviors.

This is because there are other things that can undermine your sleep and cripple your melatonin production. You can get all the nutrients your body could possibly need, but if you don’t have the right habits, those nutrients still won’t help you sleep.

To name a few, you shouldn’t be exposing yourself to blue light at night, doing anything overly stimulating, or exercising within an hour of your bed time. All of these things can stall the production of melatonin.

There’s much more on the subject as this just skims the surface.

If you want to read up on the subject, you can check out how artificial light is killing your sleep.

I like be honest and present accurate information instead of providing hyped click-bait content (like most the content out there).

Comment below if you have any suggestions to get better sleep. Your comment may help someone who is struggling with insomnia. Plus, it’s always great to hear from my readers 🙂