How to Eat Your Way to Better Sleep

When your sleep is constantly disrupted or you're simply unable to fall asleep with ease, the temptation to turn to sleeping pills is likely to be high. And yet, sleeping pills don't retrain you to sleep properly independent of them and they tend to leave many people feeling unrefreshed in the morning and sometimes they can even lead to addiction if relied upon too often, for too long. Moreover, sleeping pills are more of the quick-fix solutions that don't lead us to change a diet that may be wreaking havoc with our health.

So, can you go to sleep without taking pills? There are numerous solutions using food (and drink) that can be put to good use in helping you get better sleep. Here is how to be kind to your tummy so it will leave you alone when you want to rest!


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    Acknowledge the food and drink that might be harming your sleep chances. Before choosing food and drinks likely to help you sleep, it is vital to remove the food and drink sources that could be preventing you from falling asleep or sleeping as well as you'd like. The worst culprits are caffeine, alcohol and sugar. These three consumables need to be managed within your overall diet so that they don't deprive you of a good sleep:
    • Caffeine: Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, cola, some energy drinks, and foods and medications made with these products. The amount of caffeine from each item varies according to the strength and type of source. In general, it is advisable to stop drinking or consuming caffeinated products at least five hours prior to bedtime.[1] The older you are, the more susceptible you are to caffeine, and it has the ability to suppress sleepiness, keep you up later than you should be, bring about restlessness, heartburn, tremors, etc., and can end up depriving you of much-needed refreshing sleep.[2]
    • Alcohol: While alcohol can cause you to feel drowsy enough to fall asleep initially, it plays havoc with refreshing sleep after you've gone to sleep! Alcohol can reduce REM sleep and the length of sleep, as well as causing you to sleep more shallowly and to awaken often through the night.[3][4] And for the beauty fans, alcohol creates bags under your eyes!
    • Sugar: Sugar lurks in a wide range of processed, natural, and cooked foods. Every form of sugar can interrupt sleep if we have too much of it. The problem with sugar is the blood sugar high it creates followed by the crash; experiencing this frequently reduces our energy levels and leaves us fatigued and our sleep patterns are disturbed by poor source of energy sugar is.
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    Avoid food that brings on indigestion. What causes indigestion in one person may well not bring it on in another, so the possible list of foods here could be endless. The point is to know your own causes of indigestion and to manage these. Some of the more common causes of indigestion include:
    • Any food you have an intolerance for (foods you're allergic to shouldn't be consumed at all) – common intolerance being gluten, dairy, and chocolate or sugar;
    • Rich meals just before bedtime. When you don't give your body adequate time to break down the food, and you lie down, indigestion can easily follow. Stop eating rich food at least 5 hours prior to bedtime.[5] A light and healthy diet not only keeps down your weight but also reduces the risk of sleep apnea.
    • Onions, beans, and peppers can bring on indigestion in susceptible people.[6]
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    Choose food that stabilizes your energy. These are foods that ensure no highs and crashes but that keep you at a relatively even energy level throughout the day. Having even energy levels stops irritability, fatigue, stress, and exhaustion; it also improves mood and eases the pathway to a better night's sleep because you feel calmer, more rested, and balanced. Energy-stabilizing foods include:[7]
    • Protein-rich meals: Lean meat, cheese, natural yogurt, eggs, fish, wholewheat bread, pulses, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, etc. are steady sources of protein that will give you energy.
    • Chromium-rich foods: Chromium will help your body to overcome low blood sugar levels. It is found in such foods as shellfish, baked beans, and cheese.
    • Fresh fruit: Choose this over sugary snacks. You get the benefit of the fiber, the nutrients, and the slow-release energy from fresh fruit so avoid substituting it with juice, dried fruit, or fruit-based baked goods. Apples and pears are calming to the digestive system.
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    Drink plenty of water. Water is life-giving and is free of energy-depleting substances. Moreover, it is an important aid to good digestion. Aim to drink 2 liters (about 8 cups) daily.
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    Increase your intake of foods high in tryptophan. An amino acid and an essential chemical, tryptophan helps to build protein.[8] Found in such food as meat, fish, greens, and eggs, consuming tryptophan late in the day will release melatonin and serotonin for good sleep. It speeds up the onset of sleep, decreases the level of spontaneous awakenings during your sleep, and helps to increase the amount of refreshing sleep you get.[9]
    • It is recommended that you consume a main meal about four hours prior to bedtime that consists of complex carbohydrates and foods rich in tryptophan (see the list under "Tips" below).
    • If you're hungry for a snack before bedtime, choose one that is high in tryptophan but ensure that there is at least an hour between eating it and bedtime, to allow for proper digestion. Some bedtime snacks you could consider include:[10][11]
      • Nuts and tofu
      • Cheese and crackers
      • Cereal with milk
      • Apple pie with ice cream (sugar-reduced)
      • Oatmeal raisin cookies (sugar-reduced)
      • Banana slices on whole wheat toast
      • Peanut butter sandwich.
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    Choose foods that can provide their own sedative effect. Calcium and magnesium calm your mind, so foods rich in these will increase your chances of a good sleep. In addition, there are some foods that are known for their beneficial sleep-inducing properties:
    • Lettuce: This contains an opium-related substance as well as hyoscyamine which has anti-cramping properties.[12] Lettuce leaves can be juiced with a squeeze of lemon and drunk as a sleep inducing drink – much better for you than sleeping pills!
    • Complex carbohydrates: These contain serotonin which helps sleep; good sources include pasta, brown rice, and oatmeal.[13]
    • Mandarin juice: This contains bromine, which is calming.
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    Take care with the glycemic index of foods. The glycemic index (GI for short) is a rating system for food that refers to the speed with which the food we eat gets processed. Food that is processed more slowly keeps us fuller for longer and tends to be healthier overall, so this food has a low GI. Low GI foods maintain a better sugar level, helping us to feel better, more balanced, and not tired during the day.[14] By bedtime, a day of low GI foods leaves you naturally tired and ready for sleep. Low GI foods include:
    • Wholegrain breads, pasta, rice, yams, mixed green salad, or lightly sauteed vegetables.
    • Pulses, lentils, and beans are excellent low GI foods.
    • The more processed a food is, the higher its GI rating will be.
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    Consider drinking herbal teas which are proven sleep aids. There are various herbs that are helpful in inducing sleep. When made into an herbal tea either via infusion or decoction, these can help induce sleepiness:[15]
    • Chamomile: Either tea bags or grow your own and dry it out. Adding honey or ginger can improve the flavor.
    • Verbena: Also known as lemon verbena, this herb helps with sleep.
    • Lemon balm: A lemony member of the mint family that aids sleep.
    • Passionflower: This herb is a sedative. It can be effective for insomnia and anxiety; follow the instructions provided by the dispenser or packaging. If you have a nervous stomach, try this tea three times a day.
    • Lime flower: This is also known as linden. Use the dried flowers to make a tea.
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    Increase your intake of isolated vitamins and minerals that improve sleep. If you're not eating a healthy diet, your nutrition levels might be low. There are a number of vitamins and minerals that are important for a good night's sleep, including vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and chromium.
    • Obtaining vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet is always preferable but sometimes supplements are the only way to get enough of a particular nutrient; speak with your doctor for more advice.
    • In some countries it is possible to take the hormone melatonin, which is thought by some to stimulate sleep during disturbed sleep cycles.[16] However, note that there is little scientific evidence of the benefits to sleep of melatonin supplements thus far, and you will just be inevitably reducing the amount of melatonin that your body produces. This is probably best left to older people, whose melatonin production is in decline.[17]


  • Remember the rhyme: Don't dine after nine!
  • Be sure to have exercised during the day. This improves sleep chances.
  • Take a warm to hot bath prior to going to bed. Have peaceful music playing and just relax. Leave off the lights when taking a bath and light some candles for a dimmer atmosphere. You can also add chamomile to the bath to include the sleep-inducing properties of the bath.
  • Try meditation.
  • Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is available in the USA and Australia but not Canada or the UK. It is able to assist with insomnia and anxiety and doesn't lose its effectiveness over time.[18] Follow the instructions provided with its purchase.
  • Foods rich in tryptophan include:[19][20]
    • Bananas
    • Cabbage, spinach,
    • Turkey, poultry, red meats
    • Milk and dairy products
    • Kidney, lima beans, soybean, lentils, hummus
    • Almonds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, evening primrose seed (highest source of all foods), hazelnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
    • Oats, wheat, whole grains
    • Eggs
    • Tofu, tempeh
    • Basil, dill.


  • If sleep is interrupted, pay attention to the sleep cycle. Waking naturally after about four hours is one complete sleep cycle. If you roll over and go back to sleep at this point you can still feel refreshed by a full night's sleep, as long as you get that full cycle twice you will be rested. Two hours sleep followed by six is only one cycle. If you need to take medication after four hours and the pain wakes you, take your medication. Try to get a time-release bedtime medication from your pain clinic if you have chronic pain, waking up at pill time can really mess with your sleep cycle.
  • No drink on the market exists that can improve your ability to thrive without sleep. Sleep is the only cure for exhaustion and fatigue.
  • Be aware there are food sensitivities as well as allergies. Any foods that are on the sleep aid list that actually keep you awake, especially by indigestion, are sensitivities. People with fibromyalgia need to become aware of food sensitivities because lack of sleep can have even more devastating effects resulting in greater flares and chronic pain interfering with sleep. Stress can set off fibromyalgia flares and lack of sleep can make you more vulnerable to flares.
  • Always talk to your doctor before changing your diet and about any concerns that you have in relation to sleep patterns or disturbances.
  • Avoid having grains, sugars, and caffeine at least five hours before bedtime.

Things You'll Need

  • Healthy food
  • Water (plenty of it)
  • Supplements (optional)

Sources and Citations

  1. Lisa Helmanis, Sleep better naturally, p. 43, (2006), ISBN 978-1-74180-114-9
  2. Lisa Helmanis, Sleep better naturally, pp. 44-45, (2006), ISBN 978-1-74180-114-9
  3. Lisa Helmanis, Sleep better naturally, p. 47, (2006), ISBN 978-1-74180-114-9
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