Foods That Help You Sleep Better

Written By: Beth Ehrensberger, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Last Updated on:

Catch Some Snooze with Foods that Help You Get a Better Sleep

These days, there’s plenty to keep you tossing and turning at night: the state of the economy, your dwindling retirement fund, plus job and family pressures. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not alone: according to the National Sleep Foundation, 2 out of every 10 Americans sleep less than 6 hours a night – and the recommendation is 7-9 hours. That’s bad news, since getting enough quality shuteye is key to maintaining healthy body weight. A 2009 study found that when participants were deprived of sleep, they took part in more after-dinner snacking, to the tune of about 200 calories more than they did on days they slept longer.

Not-So-Good Foods for Sleep

Caffeine, of course, should be avoided in the afternoons and evenings by anyone who’s having trouble sleeping. And avoid late-night sweets, since they can produce a nighttime drop in blood sugar as well as pants-popping pounds over time.

Key Nutrient: Tryptophan
Instead of counting sheep, try using strategic foods to help you get a better sleep. A quick route to sleepy-town can be found by pairing up lean protein foods that are high in tryptophan with healthy complex carbohydrates. You’ve probably heard of tryptophan before – it often gets the blame for post-Thanksgiving-feast naps (which are actually often caused by exhaustion from overeating). Still, tryptophan does help with the process of falling asleep, even when not topped up with a whole buffet full of heavy foods. It’s an amino acid that’s needed to produce serotonin, which promotes relaxation – and therefore sleep. It’s even more effective when paired with healthy complex carbohydrates, which help clear the metabolic way for the amino acid to work. Snacking on a tryptophan-carbohydrate duo will have you meeting the sandman in no time.

Insomnia? Try Pairing Foods for Better Sleep

Tryptophan is actually found in many protein-rich foods, not just turkey. We’ve created a list of some of the easiest tryptophan-packed foods to pair with healthy carbohydrates for better sleep when bedtime beckons. Choose a food from the Tryptophan column to match with one from the Carbohydrate column to create the perfect evening snack for better sleep:

Tryptophan-Rich Foods Complex Carbohydrates
1 ounce mozzarella cheese 6 whole grain crackers
1 cup milk 1 small bran muffin
1 cup yogurt 1/2 cup whole grain cereal
2 oz sliced turkey breast 1 slice whole wheat bread
Handful of peanuts, cashews, or almonds 1/2 whole grain pita
Low fat egg salad 1/2 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons hummus 1/2 whole grain English muffin

The Bottom Line

To ensure a better night’s sleep, skip the midnight junk-food kitchen raid and stick to small servings of healthy lean proteins and whole grain carbohydrates.


caffeine, sleep, tryptophan


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