Eat Your Way to a Better Night’s Sleep With These Flavorful Foods

man lying awake in bed

Can’t sleep? These foods might be able to help. |

We all know a good night’s sleep is vital. But many of us don’t sleep well or get enough sleep. Maybe you’re a workaholic. You may have a busy social life. Maybe you’re a new parent. Or perhaps you just have issues that make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Whatever the case, poor sleep can have all kinds of negative effects on your body. And when you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to make unhealthy decisions. Want to break the cycle? Read on for delicious foods that help promote better sleep.

1. Cherry juice

tall glass of cherry juice served with a pink straw

A glass of cherry juice can help you sleep better. |

Try it: Blend it in a smoothie with mango.

According to a review in the journal Advances in Nutrition, your dietary patterns — and the specific foods you eat — can play an important role in the duration and the quality of your sleep. As the review points out, researchers have determined drinking tart cherry juice can promote better sleep. One study noted tart Montmorency cherries contain high levels of phytochemicals, including melatonin, a molecule that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Consuming tart cherry juice can improve both sleep duration and quality. Another study found the juice helps even adults with insomnia.

Next: This nut has sleeping power.

2. Walnuts


Walnuts |

Ty it: spinach linguine with walnut sauce

Just a handful of walnuts can make you more relaxed and help you sleep better. Why? Eating them increases the blood levels of melatonin, which helps the body regulate cycles of light and dark. A good amount of melatonin induces a calm, peaceful sleep. Walnuts also lower your resting blood pressure thanks to an omega-3 fatty acid.

Next: A powerful, healing plant

3. Ginseng


Ginseng might alleviate insomnia. |

Try it: Add ginseng to chicken soup for added depth.

Studies have found ginseng, a plant that grows in North America and east Asia, can improve your quality of sleep. Researchers found red ginseng extract increased rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement sleep. Another study determined Panax ginseng extract “may exert a stabilizing effect on sleep-waking disturbances.” Plus, Korean red ginseng seems to alleviate insomnia, flushing, and perspiration.

Next: You can never have too many of these.

4. Vegetables

various of fresh vegetables

A healthy diet with lots of vegetables will help you sleep better. |

Try it: Make a vegetable pizza crust for a healthier pie.

Researchers report low vegetable intake is associated with poor sleep quality. And a healthy pattern of eating, “characterized by a high intake of vegetables, mushrooms, potatoes, seaweeds, soy products, and eggs, was associated with a decreased prevalence of difficulty initiating sleep once or more a week.” Eating more veggies might not improve your sleep right away. But a high veggie intake can only help you as you try to make your diet and your sleep patterns more healthy.

Next: A common side dish

5. Jasmine rice

meal with chicken, veggies, and rice

Rice can help you fall asleep faster. |

Try it: oven-baked jasmine rice and mushroom pilaf

Not sure what kind of rice to make with dinner? One study shows jasmine rice might make a much better choice than Mahatma rice. Researchers found jasmine rice, which is a much higher glycemic-index carbohydrate, seems to shorten sleep onset. (That means people who ate jasmine rice fell asleep faster than those who ate Mahatma rice.) The most effective time to consume your jasmine rice? About four hours before bedtime. The researchers note that “no effects on other sleep variables were observed.” So jasmine rice might not help you to sleep better. But if you usually take a long time to fall asleep, high glycemic-index carbs might help.

Next: The perfect fruit for insomniacs

6. Kiwi


Kiwis can improve sleep disorders. |

Try it: Top your frozen yogurt dessert with kiwi.

Have you ever tried eating a kiwi to improve your sleep? Probably not. But you might want to give it a try. Researchers report kiwifruit contain many helpful compounds, including antioxidants and serotonin, which can help treat sleep disorders. They found people who eat two kiwis an hour before bedtime get more sleep and sleep better. “Kiwifruit consumption may improve sleep onset, duration, and efficiency in adults with self-reported sleep disturbances,” according to the study.

Next: More powerful produce

7. Lettuce

Iceberg lettuce

Lettuce might help you sleep longer. |

Try it: healthy lettuce wraps

Researchers report lettuce prolongs sleep in mice. The study notes people with insomnia often use benzodiazepines to improve their sleep disorders. However, “clinical uses of benzodiazepines are accompanied with unpleasant side effects, such as drug dependence, tolerance, rebound insomnia, amnesia, psychomotor impairment, and potentiating of other central depressant drugs.” The researchers found the sleep-prolonging effect of lettuce “was comparable to that of induced by diazepam and accompanied with no neuron toxicity.” Another study determined lettuce seed oil acts as a “useful sleeping aid and may be a hazard-free line of treatment.”

Next: An important mineral

8. Magnesium

Spinach in and around a bowl on a wooden table.

Magnesium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, can improve your sleep. |

Try it: spinach pesto pasta with chicken

Studies have found magnesium supplementation can improve insomnia. Magnesium increases sleep efficiency and sleep time, and it decreases sleep onset latency and early morning awakening. Similarly, a magnesium-deficient diet has a negative effect on sleep patterns and results in disorganized sleep. Magnesium even enhances “the formation of melatonin from serotonin by binding to AANAT enzyme, thus activating it and increasing the affinity of serotonin for binding to AANAT.” Want to improve your sleep? Try adding magnesium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables and unpolished grains and nuts, to your diet.

Next: Try this for breakfast.

9. Oats

Oatmeal porridge with fresh blueberry

Oats and other foods rich in tryptophan might help sleep disorders. |

Try it: Prepare overnight oats for on-the-go breakfast.

Researchers report foods rich in L-tryptophan might improve sleep disorders. They note “some common sources of tryptophan are oats, bananas, dried prunes, milk, tuna fish, cheese, bread, chicken, turkey, peanuts, and chocolate.” The tryptophan in oats (and other foods) “is thought to produce its therapeutic effects through melatonin mechanisms.” Interestingly enough, it “produces significant improvements in obstructive sleep apnea, but not central sleep apnea.”

Next: A starch that everyone loves

10. Potatoes

Oven baked potatoes pieces

Potatoes and other high glycemic index foods can help maximize sleep quality and quantity. |

Try it: potato kielbasa skillet

A study that focused on athletes determined several nutritional groups can help maximize sleep quality and quantity. One of the most promising? High glycemic index foods, a group that includes not only white rice, but also potatoes, pasta, and bread. The researchers advise consuming these foods an hour or more before bedtime. They also note, “Diets high in carbohydrate may result in shorter sleep latencies.”

Next: A relaxing beverage

11. Tea

overhead image of a woman's hands holding a cup of tea in bed

A cup of tea might help you sleep at night. |

Try it: iced, with milk, as dessert — it’s all good for you

Researchers report that chamomile tea, specifically, seems to promote sleep. Chamomile’s “sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.” Additionally, “Compounds, other than apigenin, present in extracts of chamomile can also bind BDZ and GABA receptors in the brain and might be responsible for some sedative effect.” Another study recommended chamomile tea to postpartum women to alleviate sleep problems and depression. And still other studies found some black tea also can improve sleep quality.

Next: A calming drink straight from the cow

12. Milk

pouring milk

A glass of milk might help you fall asleep. |

Try it: with a little cocoa powder for sweetness

Many people drink something hot at bedtime, hoping it will make them sleep better. They might be on to something, especially if their hot drink of choice involves milk. A study in the 1970s determined a hot milk drink, Horlicks, reduced the number of movements that volunteers made in their sleep. (Horlicks is a malted milk drink you can mix from a powder.)

However, The New York Times notes hot milk might not be helping you the way you think it is. Many people think a glass of hot milk promotes sleep because it contains tryptophan. But protein-rich foods like milk reduce tryptophan’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. So why does a glass of hot milk help? Psychology plays a big role. “Scientists say the routine of drinking a glass of milk before bed can be as soothing as a favorite old blanket,” The New York Times says.

Next: An all-natural sleep aid

13. Valerian

overhead shot of tea

Valerian can help with insomnia. |

Try it: in a hot chocolate recipe

Like tea, extracts of the valerian root are routinely used to induce sleep and improve sleep quality. According to a review of the studies that looked at valerian’s effect on sleep, “Valerian might improve sleep quality without producing side effects.” Another review notes even though valerian seems to improve insomnia, its effectiveness “has not been demonstrated with quantitative or objective measurements.” Researchers advise more studies are needed. But in the meantime, the plant is safe, and you might see good results by drinking valerian tea before bed.

Next: A healthier alternative to ice cream

14. Yogurt

Bowl of fresh mixed berries and yogurt with farm fresh strawberries

Yogurt can improve your metabolism and make it easier to have healthy sleep patterns. | Coskun

Try it: yogurt barley soup

Ice cream might not be a particularly healthy midnight snack. But yogurt? You can probably feel less guilty about it. One study indicates yogurt consumption is associated with a better metabolic profile in both men and women. In fact, “yogurt consumption was inversely related to levels of triglycerides, glucose and insulin, insulin resistance, and blood pressure, when adjusting for demographic and lifestyle factors.” Yogurt might not directly affect your sleep. But sleep and metabolism are closely related. That is why chronic partial sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.