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  • Writer's pictureLana Walsh

5 Foods to Eat to Help You Sleep, 5 to Avoid

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

What and when you eat can have an affect on your sleep. From decreasing your stress and boosting serotonin levels to causing indigestion and reducing deep sleep, read on to see how food affects your ability to get your best night’s rest.

5 Food to Eat That Help You Sleep

There has been some research to show that increasing dietary levels of B vitamins can improve sleep, while other studies show deficiencies in B vitamins and folic acid impair sleep. Try adding some of these types of foods to your diet to help you get better rest.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Leafy greens contain B vitamins, folic acid, and magnesium, which is an important mineral that has the power to relax muscles. Making leafy greens a part of your regular diet is not only good for your health, but for your sleep as the last thing you want at bedtime is muscle tension.


There is a reason that milk is sometimes referred to as a "wind down" food. The proteins in milk can help reduce anxiety while calcium is another mineral that can help with muscle relaxation. Calcium and magnesium produce calming effects on the brain and are both essential for normal sleep.

Fish Oil

Fish oil contains essential fatty acids that help with serotonin uptake in the brain. Serotonin makes you feel good mentally and enables your brain to better cope with stress. Stress is the number one reason people have trouble sleeping. Eating certain kinds of fish, such as salmon, or taking supplements, can help reduce your stress by increasing serotonin.

Complex Carbohydrates

A research study found that people who ate a high carbohydrate lunch felt sleepier in the afternoon than those who ate a more protein rich meal. Complex carbohydrates, like bread and bagels, have a mild sleep-enhancing effect because they increase serotonin which promotes sleep.


Nuts, like almonds, walnuts, and cashews, can contain melatonin, magnesium, and zinc. A research study found that combining these three things helped seniors with insomnia sleep better. Nuts can also help you maintain your blood sugar levels which naturally rise during the night.

5 Foods to Avoid When Trying to Sleep

Preserved Meats

Preserved meats, such as bacon, ham, and pepperoni, contain a high level of the amino acid, tyramine, which promotes alertness and can activate your stress response. The release of cortisol from the stress reaction increases heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain waves, making your body more active which keeps you from relaxing and preparing for sleep.

Sugary Desserts

Eating sugary foods too close to bedtime can affect your sleep by increasing your blood sugar levels which gives you a burst of energy that makes it more difficult to sleep. Some research shows that sugar can reduce deep sleep making your night lighter and more easily disrupted.

Spicy Foods

Spicy food can affect sleep by increasing your body temperature while you digest. This disrupts the fall in body temperature, a critical component for signaling the brain to sleep, making it more difficult to nod off. Additionally, spicy foods may cause heartburn making it difficult to get comfortable enough to sleep.

Salty Snacks

Too much salt can increase your blood pressure and contribute to a restless night. Salt is dehydrating resulting in the body storing fluid which can lead to bloating. The uncomfortable, even painful, bloated feeling can make it very difficult to relax, leading to a more restless night.


Some foods, such as chocolate, ice cream, and energy bars, contain caffeine which can disrupt your sleep as it is a stimulant designed to keep you alert. Caffeine has a half life of about 5 hours, so depending on how much you take in and your sensitivity to the effects of it, eating or drinking caffeine too close to bedtime may keep you from having a restful night.

Ultimately, you want to make sure you are giving your body enough time to properly digest food before bed to allow for proper digestion as that slows down after sleep-onset which could lead to indigestion and a restless night.

Looking for other strategies on how to fall asleep faster? Get my free PDF, 12 Ways to Fall Asleep Faster Naturally.

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