What are the best foods for sleep? There is a growing body of scientific data that indicates what types of food can protect, enhance, or undermine sleep.
We know that diet is a pillar of health. Our diets also are an important foundation of healthy sleep. Cultivating eating habits that are right for you, and support your nightly rest, is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. There is no one “diet” that is right for sleep, and there is a broad range of foods that fit well in a sleep-promoting diet.
Best Diet for Sleep
The Mediterranean Diet, with its abundance of unprocessed whole foods, emphasis on vegetables, fruits, moderate whole grain consumption, and healthy fat and protein sources, has been associated with higher sleep quality, including in this 2020 study of adult women in the US.
But the short- and long-term impact of foods on sleep and sleep quality is actually a pretty under-researched area of sleep and nutrition science. There’s a lot more to learn about how macronutrients—proteins, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, amino acids—as well as vitamins and minerals affect sleep patterns and the quality of our nightly rest. That said, there is a growing body of scientific data that indicates what types of food can protect and enhance sleep—and what foods can undermine sleep.
Best Foods for Sleep
• Among their benefits for sleep, protein-rich foods can be a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to make the sleep-facilitating hormone melatonin.
• And consuming a larger share of calories from protein may help with nighttime satiety, keeping hunger hormones suppressed and allowing for more sustained rest overnight.
• The broad spectrum of sleep-friendly protein sources includes eggs, fish, chicken breast, broccoli, spinach, quinoa, and almonds.
• High-fiber diets may help us achieve deeper, more restorative rest.
• Fiber-rich diets have been associated with less time spent in light sleep and more time spent in slow-wave sleep, the deep, highly restorative sleep stage during which the body undertakes significant cellular rejuvenation and repair.
• Avocadoes, pears, chickpeas, lentils, oats, and dark chocolate are among the high-fiber foods that can contribute to a sleep-promoting diet.
• Magnesium calms the nervous system and relaxes muscles.
• It’s involved in regulating the “sleep hormone” melatonin and in helping the body maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D, which facilitates more restful high-quality sleep.
• Magnesium also maintains healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.
• Many people lack sufficient magnesium, and low magnesium is linked to insomnia. Since magnesium isn’t produced inside the body, we must add foods to our diet that provides it.
• Good dietary sources of magnesium include bananas, spinach, avocados, brown rice, tofu, and cashews.
• Potassium promotes healthy circulation and digestion while also helping to relax muscles, all contributing to better sleep.
• Potassium-rich foods include leafy greens, potatoes, bananas, mushrooms, and legumes.
• Sunlight is the very best source of Vitamin D. Our bodies produce Vitamin D in response to sun exposure.
• Dietary sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish, fish oil, egg yolks, dairy, and D-fortified foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids
• Our bodies do not produce omega 3s; we must get them from dietary sources
• Many types of fish are rich sources of omega 3s DHA and EPA, including anchovies, bluefish, mackerel, wild-caught salmon, and tuna.
• Nuts and oils are potent sources of the omega 3 ALA, including walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
Worst Foods for Sleep
• Sugar consumption is linked to restless sleeping and more frequent nighttime awakenings.
• Sugar stimulates appetite, which can lead to more late-night eating that disrupts the soundness of our rest.
• Sugar contributes to inflammation, and inflammation interferes with sleep. And sugar is harmful to gut health.
• Our gut microbiome plays a role in regulating sleep that we’re just beginning to understand, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that protecting the health of our guts can have a powerful benefit on sleep.
Saturated and trans fats
• Diets higher in saturated fats have been linked to lighter sleep accompanied by more frequent awakenings throughout the night.
• Saturated and trans fats often found in highly processed foods are linked to weight gain and inflammation, undermining sleep.
Click here to read about the best foods for sleep.