author

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Nilong Vyas

Written by

Eric Suni

Whether it’s a jolt after a cup of coffee or drowsiness after Thanksgiving dinner, most people have personally experienced how food and drinks can affect their energy and alertness.

With as many as 35% of American adults suffering from symptoms of insomnia, it’s understandable that there’s a strong desire to take advantage of food and drinks for better sleep.

Both diet and sleep are complex, which means there’s no silver bullet or single food that is guaranteed to help with sleep. However, there are some foods and drinks that may make it easier to get a great night’s sleep.

Specific Foods That Can Affect Sleep

Researchers, including nutritionists and sleep experts, have conducted different types of studies to try to discover the best foods for sleep. While this research provides important clues, it’s not conclusive. In general, there’s a lack of direct evidence about specific foods that are good for sleep.

In addition, the range of varieties of cultivars of most foods means that their nutrient profile can be inconsistent. For example, some varieties of red grapes have high levels of melatonin while others have virtually none. Climate and growing conditions may further alter the nutrients in any particular food product.

That said, there are indications that certain foods can make you sleepy or promote better sleep. Sometimes this is based on a particular research study and in other cases on the underlying nutritional components of the food or drink.

Dietary choices affect more than just energy and sleepiness; they can play a major role in things like weight, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar levels just to name a few. For that reason, it’s best to consult with a doctor or dietician before making significant changes to your daily diet. Doing so helps ensure that your food choices support not just your sleep but all of your other health priorities as well.

Kiwi

The kiwi or kiwifruit is a small, oval-shaped fruit popularly associated with New Zealand even though it is grown in numerous countries. There are both green and gold varieties, but green kiwis are produced in greater numbers.

Kiwifruit possess numerous vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins C and E as well as potassium and folate.

Some research has found that eating kiwi can improve sleep. In a study, people who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime found that they fell asleep faster, slept more, and had better sleep quality.

It is not known for sure why kiwis may help with sleep, but researchers believe that it could relate to their antioxidant properties, ability to address folate deficiencies, and/or high concentration of serotonin.

Tart Cherries and Tart Cherry Juice

As the name indicates, tart cherries have a distinct flavor from sweet cherries. Sometimes called sour cherries, these include cultivars like Richmond, Montmorency, and English morello. They may be sold whole or as a tart cherry juice.

Several studies have found sleep benefits for people who drink tart cherry juice. In one study, people who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice per day were found to have more total sleep time and higher sleep efficiency.

These benefits may come from the fact that tart cherries have been found to have above-average concentrations of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep. Tart cherries may also have an antioxidant effect that is conducive to sleep.

Malted Milk and Nighttime Milk

Malted milk is made by combining milk and a specially formulated powder that contains primarily wheat flour, malted wheat, and malted barley along with sugar and an assortment of vitamins. It is popularly known as Horlick’s, the name of a popular brand of malted milk powder.

In the past, small studies found that malted milk before bed reduced sleep interruptions. The explanation for these benefits is uncertain but may have to do with the B and D vitamins in malted milk.

Milk itself contains melatonin, and some milk products are melatonin-enriched. When cows are milked at night, their milk has more melatonin, and this milk may be useful in providing a natural source of the sleep-producing hormone.

Fatty Fish

A research study found that fatty fish may be a good food for better sleep. The study over a period of months found that people who ate salmon three times per week had better overall sleep as well as improved daytime functioning.

Researchers believe that fatty fish may help sleep by providing a healthy dose of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin. This study focused particularly on fish consumption during winter months when vitamin D levels tend to be lower.

Nuts

Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are often considered to be a good food for sleep. Though the exact amounts can vary, nuts contain melatonin as well as essential minerals like magnesium and zinc that are essential to a range of bodily processes. In a clinical trial using supplements, it was found that a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc helped older adults with insomnia get better sleep.

Rice

Studies of carbohydrate intake and sleep have had mixed results overall, but some evidence connects rice consumption with improved sleep.

A study of adults in Japan found that those who regularly ate rice reported better sleep than those who ate more bread or noodles. This study only identified an association and cannot demonstrate causality, but it supports prior research that showed that eating foods with a high glycemic index around four hours before bedtime helped with falling asleep.

At the same time, sugary beverages and sweets have been tied to worse sleep, so it appears that not all carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods are created equal. Additional research is necessary to fully identify the sleep-related effects of different carbohydrates.

The impact of carbohydrates on sleep may be influenced by what is consumed with them. For example, a combination of a moderate amount protein that has tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, and carbohydrates may make it easier for the tryptophan to reach the brain. Turkey is an example of a protein with high levels of tryptophan.

Diet and Sleep: the Big Picture

It’s natural to want to find a food to make you sleepy or the single best food for sleep, but it’s important to be realistic. Sleep is a complicated process affected by many things including mental health, light exposure, and underlying physical issues.

Diet is also multifaceted. It isn’t just one food; instead, it is cumulative, affected by when, what, and how much we eat throughout a day and over weeks, months, and years. Individuals can have distinct reactions to different diets, making it hard to generalize about the perfect diet for everyone.

Because of these factors, it’s hard to design research studies that provide conclusive answers about the optimal food for sleep. While it’s tempting to try to draw hard-and-fast conclusions from individual studies, the science doesn’t support broad extrapolations.

Given the complexity of diet and sleep, for many people it may be more meaningful to focus on the big picture — healthy sleep and diet habits — rather than on individual foods and drinks.

Healthy Diet for Sleep

Nutritionists recommend eating a balanced and consistent diet that is made up mostly of vegetables and fruits. Properly designed, such a diet provides stable sources of essential vitamins and minerals, including those that can promote sleep. An example of this type of diet, the Mediterranean Diet, has been associated with heart health as well as with better sleep.

Many principles of a balanced and consistent diet go hand-in-hand with general tips for avoiding sleep disruptions related to food and drink:

  • Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon or evening when its stimulant effects can keep you up at night.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption since it can throw off your sleep cycles even if it makes you sleepy at first.
  • Try not to eat too late so that you aren’t still digesting at bedtime and are at less risk of acid reflux. Be especially careful with spicy and fatty foods late in the evening.

Sleep Hygiene

Your sleep environment and daily routines, known collectively as sleep hygiene, play a critical role in your ability to sleep well.

While some foods may help with sleep in general, they are less likely to be effective if you have poor sleep hygiene. For example, if your bedroom is noisy and bright or if you use electronic devices in bed, it may suppress your body’s melatonin production and counteract the benefits of sleep-promoting food.

Reviewing your current sleep hygiene practices can be a starting point for sleeping better, and since it involves considering your daytime and pre-bed routines, this review may offer an opportunity to incorporate foods that are good for sleep into an overall plan to get more consistent and replenishing rest.

  • References

    +20 Sources
    1. 1. Peuhkuri, K., Sihvola, N., & Korpela, R. (2012). Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food & nutrition research, 56, 10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252. https://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252
    2. 2. Meng, X., Li, Y., Li, S., Zhou, Y., Gan, R. Y., Xu, D. P., & Li, H. B. (2017). Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients, 9(4), 367. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9040367
    3. 3. Richardson, D. P., Ansell, J., & Drummond, L. N. (2018). The nutritional and health attributes of kiwifruit: a review. European journal of nutrition, 57(8), 2659–2676. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-018-1627-z
    4. 4. Lin HH, Tsai PS, Fang SC, Liu JF. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011;20(2):169-174. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21669584/
    5. 5. Losso, J. N., Finley, J. W., Karki, N., Liu, A. G., Prudente, A., Tipton, R., Yu, Y., & Greenway, F. L. (2018). Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms. American journal of therapeutics, 25(2), e194–e201. https://doi.org/10.1097/MJT.0000000000000584
    6. 6. Brezinová, V., & Oswald, I. (1972). Sleep after a bedtime beverage. British medical journal, 2(5811), 431–433.https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.2.5811.431
    7. 7. dela Peña, I. J., Hong, E., de la Peña, J. B., Kim, H. J., Botanas, C. J., Hong, Y. S., Hwang, Y. S., Moon, B. S., & Cheong, J. H. (2015). Milk Collected at Night Induces Sedative and Anxiolytic-Like Effects and Augments Pentobarbital-Induced Sleeping Behavior in Mice. Journal of medicinal food, 18(11), 1255–1261.https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2015.3448
    8. 8. Hansen, A. L., Dahl, L., Olson, G., Thornton, D., Graff, I. E., Frøyland, L., Thayer, J. F., & Pallesen, S. (2014). Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 10(5), 567–575. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.3714
    9. 9. Reiter, R. J., Manchester, L. C., & Tan, D. X. (2005). Melatonin in walnuts: influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 21(9), 920–924.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2005.02.005
    10. 10. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M., Inc.; c1997-2019. Magnesium in diet. Updated July 2, 2020. Retrieved July 14, 2020. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002423.htm
    11. 11. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M., Inc.; c1997-2019. Zinc in diet. Updated July 2, 2020. Retrieved July 14, 2020. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002416.htm
    12. 12. Rondanelli, M., Opizzi, A., Monteferrario, F., Antoniello, N., Manni, R., & Klersy, C. (2011). The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 59(1), 82–90.https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03232.x
    13. 13. Yoneyama, S., Sakurai, M., Nakamura, K., Morikawa, Y., Miura, K., Nakashima, M., Yoshita, K., Ishizaki, M., Kido, T., Naruse, Y., Nogawa, K., Suwazono, Y., Sasaki, S., & Nakagawa, H. (2014). Associations between rice, noodle, and bread intake and sleep quality in Japanese men and women. PloS one, 9(8), e105198. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0105198
    14. 14. Afaghi, A., O'Connor, H., & Chow, C. M. (2007). High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(2), 426–430. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.2.426
    15. 15. Katagiri, R., Asakura, K., Kobayashi, S., Suga, H., & Sasaki, S. (2014). Low intake of vegetables, high intake of confectionary, and unhealthy eating habits are associated with poor sleep quality among middle-aged female Japanese workers. Journal of occupational health, 56(5), 359–368.https://doi.org/10.1539/joh.14-0051-oa
    16. 16. Tanaka, E., Yatsuya, H., Uemura, M., Murata, C., Otsuka, R., Toyoshima, H., Tamakoshi, K., Sasaki, S., Kawaguchi, L., & Aoyama, A. (2013). Associations of protein, fat, and carbohydrate intakes with insomnia symptoms among middle-aged Japanese workers. Journal of epidemiology, 23(2), 132–138.https://doi.org/10.2188/jea.je20120101
    17. 17. Richard, D. M., Dawes, M. A., Mathias, C. W., Acheson, A., Hill-Kapturczak, N., & Dougherty, D. M. (2009). L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications. International journal of tryptophan research : IJTR, 2, 45–60. https://doi.org/10.4137/ijtr.s2129
    18. 18. MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US. Nutrition; [updated 2020 June 25; reviewed 2018 April 18; retrieved 2020 July 7].. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/nutrition.html
    19. 19. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M., Inc.; c1997-2019. Mediterranean diet. Updated July 2, 2020. Retrieved July 14, 2020. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000110.htm
    20. 20. Muscogiuri, G., Barrea, L., Aprano, S., Framondi, L., Di Matteo, R., Laudisio, D., Pugliese, G., Savastano, S., Colao, A., & on behalf of the OPERA PREVENTION Project (2020). Sleep Quality in Obesity: Does Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet Matter?. Nutrients, 12(5), 1364. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051364