Diet & Nutrition | Family Health | Wellness
Sleeping woman

5 Foods That Help You Sleep

Eat right, sleep better

Let’s face it — we live in a non-stop society. In our rush, we too often put sleep on the back burner. As a busy mom myself, I can understand why people forgo sleep to get things done. 

But it’s the wrong approach. Sleep has a huge effect on how you feel throughout the day, and nutrition plays a role in how well you sleep. Food relates directly to serotonin, a key hormone that — along with Vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid — helps promote healthy sleep. Try to consume foods that calm the body, increase serotonin levels and get you ready for restful sleep.

Here are a few foods to get you started on the path to slumber.

Brown rice1. Complex carbohydrates

Embrace whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, crackers and brown rice. Avoid simple carbohydrates, including breads, pasta and sweets such as cookies, cakes, pastries and other sugary foods. These tend to reduce serotonin levels and do not promote sleep.

2. Lean proteins

Lean proteins include low-fat cheese, chicken, turkey and fish. These foods are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which tends to increase serotonin levels. On the flipside, avoid high-fat cheeses, chicken wings or deep-fried fish. These take longer to digest and can keep you awake.

3. Heart-healthy fats

Unsaturated fats will not only boost your heart health but also improve your serotonin levels. Examples include peanut butter (read the label to make sure peanuts are the only ingredient) and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios. Avoid foods with saturated and trans fats, such as french fries, potato chips or other high-fat snack foods. These bring your serotonin levels down.    

4. Beverages

Certain drinks can promote or prevent sleep. A good, soothing beverage to drink before bedtime would be warm milk (your mother was right) or herbal tea such as chamomile or peppermint. As for caffeinated drinks, I recommend that my clients who are having difficulty sleeping consume that last cup by 2 p.m. Caffeine can affect people differently, and even the smallest amount of stimulant can keep you awake. 

Basil leaf5. Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs can have a calming effect on the body. For example, sage and basil contain chemicals that reduce tension and promote sleep. Trymaking your own homemade pasta sauce with sage and basil. It’s easy to do, and homemade sauces tend to be lower in sugar than store-bought versions. However, avoid herbs such as red pepper or black pepper at night, as they have a stimulatory effect.

Sleep-inducing snacks

  • Try a banana with low-fat yogurt
  • Eat low-fat cottage cheese with a few 100-percent whole grain pita chips
  • Smear peanut butter on 100-percent whole grain crackers
  • Enjoy an apple with mozzarella string cheese.

 Try all these foods to reduce your tossing and turning when you hit the pillow. Sweet dreams!

Tags: diet, healthy diet, insomnia, sleep

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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  • Lisa

    Sounds good , going to true it a see how it works ;)

  • Allison Tappin

    I eat these foods and I do get a good nights sleep!

  • Diane

    Embrace pasta…avoid pasta ?

    • Linda Hampton

      Avoid plain pasta, but eat whole grain pasta.

  • Susan Wright

    I have crushed pumpkin seeds a half hour before going to bed it works great

  • lea

    promoting dairy and meat is not good advise..sorry

    • Dillonvale1964

      Any nutrition plan that completely excludes a food group, such as dairy and meat, is immediately suspect. Just because you don’t agree with the advice doesn’t make it good. It just means you disagree.

    • Moej O’Raisin

      You are incorrect, sorry.

  • Brenda Bender-Moran

    I eat 2 handfuls of peanuts as I watch TV at 7PM & by 8PM I am asleep in my recliner. Then I go up to bed & sleep 9-10 hours a night.

  • Kay Septrion

    good to know

  • Paula Smolin

    I eat most of them!!! :) Herbal Teas are GREAT!!!!

  • cassandra nelson

    Thank you this will help my son get to sleep at night.

  • Victoria Oppenheim

    Benedryl seems to be only thing that works for me. It’s terrible

  • Victoria Oppenheim

    And it’s the worst thing to be exhausted and not able to get to sleep. Worst!

  • cuzdog

    I eat baked turkey and onions and it is like taking a sleeping pill rest great and go to sleep fast !!

  • LuckyLady

    But what can help me STAY asleep? Wake up anywhere from 1:30 – 2:30 and can’t get back to sleep.

    • Judi Shirley

      Avoid liquid after 7 pm

  • sleepy snoozy

    It is good to be reminded. My husband is snoring already in his recliner. I think I will take him to bed.

  • Flunking_retirement

    They forgot bourbon

  • Linda Hampton

    Actually, different things work for different people!

  • ibelievein3

    Actually it is a myth that the tryptophan in turkey is what makes people sleepy after eating holiday meal. It has been shown that it is mostly the high carbs in holiday meals that promote this sleepy sensation. so above makes good sense.

  • Charles

    Is this written by your dietician again? Do you test these out. Shoot, half of your suggestions wake you up. Peanut butter…honestly have you looked at the sugar in those jars? A banana, really? It’s high sugar again along with most yogurt on the shelf. And chicken, fish which is recommended for every day “health”…it’s wonder anyone stays awake at their desk. Food is not an area you shine in…leave it alone for awhile

    • Btch69

      Negative Nancy

    • suzrr

      To Charles….The article said to make sure that peanuts were the only ingredient. It also says stay away from sugary foods. Plain Greek yogurt works well.

  • TchTA

    I had a really hard time sleeping, even resorted to taking PM’s. I don’t like taking drugs of any kind, though. Someone suggested Celestial Seasonings 100% all natural caffeine free herbal “Sleepytime” tea. I drink a cup around 10:00pm. I use two tea bags and sleep all through the night, now. I know I sound like I work for them, or have stock in the company, but, trust me, I don’t. I’m just sharing what works for me. I agree with someone else on here, different things work for different people, so I’m just suggesting because it works for me.

  • WallyWorld

    I take 2 tylenol/generic PM’s about an hour before bedtime. Most of the time i sleep thru the night. Both my cardiologist and internist say taking these pills is not damaging or addictive. Try it, it might work for you too.

  • silkworm

    All natural peanut butter on crackers, a cup of warm milk, warm feet & a knit hat on your head. Lesson from my German grandmother. It works.

  • YouveBeenLied2

    This article is so 1995…low fat, no saturated fat, whole grain…blah blah…challenge conventional wisdom, do your own research and discover that we’ve been lied to by Ancel Keys and our own government…

  • Suitsme

    This works for me. My doctor recommended it- L-tryptophan.
    L-tryptophan is an amino acid that is made from plant or animal sources.
    It is available in health food stores.
    L-tryptophan has been used in alternative medicine as an aid to treat sleep problems (insomnia), anxiety, depression, premenstrual syndrome, attention deficit disorder, and for smoking cessation and other conditions.

  • Moej O’Raisin

    5mg melatonin tablet knocks me out.

  • Elana Stewart

    Establishing a routine of going to bed at the same time each night helps. Other tips that work for me: don’t use the computer after 7 pm. It seems to be too mentally stimulating…or perhaps the brightness if the screen affects wake-sleep cycles. Also, don’t drink fluids after 6 pm so you don’t have to get up during the night..

  • Maria Theresa Ann

    Try a warm glass of milk a few gram crackers…

  • Patricia Dauenheimer

    Just relax. Take aspirin 2 then bed sleep. Sip of water no more.

  • Chris Macoy

    I like the list you have here in this article! Whole foods and less saturated fats! Bananas. Two of the main nutrients found in this tasty fruit are potassium and magnesium, which also double as muscle relaxants. They are also full of tryptophan, an amino acid that produces serotonin and melatonin – both of which also act as relaxants and promote sleepiness.- this article has a great list of food that help improve sleep

  • Ogn_Dulk

    ask your doctor about trazadone.

  • nicole

    I be stress to much that I cant eat what can i do