Foods That Help You Sleep

Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? I hear this often from people. In addition to good sleep “hygiene” (like avoiding blue light before bedtime, having pre-sleep rituals, ensuring cool room temperature, etc., the foods you eat can help with your sleep, too!

Here are three nutrients in foods and where to get them to help you sleep better.

1. The melatonin foods
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body and is necessary for healthy sleep patterns and helps you fall asleep more quickly

Studies show that consuming foods rich in melatonin directly increases the melatonin content in the blood, therefore improving the ability to fall asleep and be in a relaxed state.

  • Cherries, but not just any cherry. Tart cherries are found to be highest in melatonin
  • Salmon and eggs. In fact, fish and eggs are the highest animal source of melatonin
  • Walnuts

***For best impact, consume melatonin-containing foods 2 hours before bedtime, to optimize the melatonin in the blood.

No adverse affects have been shown from consuming melatonin from foods.

Supplemental melatonin may help with jet lag when heading East over 2 or more time zones, but not for regular nightly sleep.

2. Complex carbohydrate –> serotonin foods
Carbohydrates in particular boost serotonin, the hormone that helps you feel calm and sleepy.
Opt for “slow” carbs (whole foods), not fast carbs (cookies, cake, candy).

  • Aim for no more than 30 g carbs before bed
  • Keep the snack small so it doesn’t tax your digestive system
  • Sunflower seeds contain 7 g complex carbohydrates, 7 g protein, and are excellent source of magnesium, which also plays a role in sleep quality
  • Pumpkin seeds, too
  • Cheese and crackers

3. Tryptophan foods
L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is needed to make serotonin in the body. The body can’t store that much tryptophan in the body, so it’s important to consume it regularly.

  • Chicken–try the chicken recipe below. So good in this cooler weather.
  • Oats—high in tryptophan, melatonin, and complex carbs
  • Dairy foods also contain tryptophan
  • But these foods still need the help of carbohydrate foods to affect serotonin levels.

Let me know if you try any of these things and they help.

Michelle Dudash, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, author of the best-selling cookbook Clean Eating for Busy Families, and creator of the 4Real Food Reboot, an online meal planning program for weight loss.

Here are some of my “dreamy” recipes to add into your weekly rotation:
Roasted Orange-Brined Chicken
Sheet Pan Dinner: Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Chicken and Potatoes with Kalamata Olives
Steve’s Saucy Baked Salmon with Dijon & Dill
Lemon Basil Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan & Walnuts
Stovetop Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn


  1. Selina says:

    As a Nutritionist I can say this article is 100% informative and research based. Thank you so much for sharing this content.

    1. Well, thanks so much! Glad you found it helpful.

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