Key Takeaways
  • Certain foods and drinks can promote better sleep by providing nutrients essential to sleep.
  • Kiwi, cherries, milk, fatty fish, nuts, and rice have been found to aid in relaxation and sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals before bedtime for healthier sleep patterns.
  • Nutrition and sleep are connected, but a balanced diet will not benefit your sleep if you have poor bedtime habits.

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.

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.

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.

Why Specific Foods Can Affect Sleep

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 .

That said, 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.

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. Many times a balanced diet can help support the best sleep.

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 suppressing inflammatory markers, their ability to address folate deficiencies, and/or a high concentration of serotonin.

Tart Cherries

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 with a diagnosed history of insomnia 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

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, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium in malted milk which may provide a great blend to help you relax before bedtime.

Milk also 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 release and regulation of serotonin. This study focused particularly on fish consumption during winter and darker 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 and omega-3’s as well as minerals like magnesium and zinc, which together can help people sleep better. In a clinical trial using supplements, it was found that a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc helped older adults with insomnia sleep longer and more deeply.

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 of protein that has tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, and carbohydrates may make it easier for the tryptophan to reach the brain.

Diet and Sleep: The Big Picture

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. But sleep is a complicated process affected by many things including mental health, light exposure, daytime activity, and underlying physical issues.

“It’s better to focus on overall healthy dietary patterns throughout the day rather than focus on a specific food or drink to improve sleep.”
Dr. Lulu Guo
Dr. Lulu Guo
Sleep Medicine Physician

Diet is also multifaceted. 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.

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.

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 to avoid alcohol especially within 4 hours of bedtime.
  • 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. A healthy sleep environment entails finding the best mattress, pillows, sheets, and decor to promote restful sleep.

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.

Learn more about our Editorial Team

References
16 Sources

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