Anyone who's ever felt drowsy after dining on turkey during the holidays knows that certain foods can affect your alertness. Yep, what you put on your plate plays a part in promoting how well you snooze.
The connection between diet and sleep was observed in a January 2022 review in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers found that diets higher in complex carbohydrates, healthier fats, protein and plants were associated with better sleep quality.
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Here, Kristy Del Coro, RDN, a registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist, shares specific foods that help you sleep.
Walnuts are a windfall for satisfying shut-eye.
That's because walnuts contain the hormone melatonin, which influences sleep by regulating your circadian rhythm, Del Coro says. And noshing on these nuts helps increase your blood melatonin levels, she says.
What's more, walnuts are also a good source of magnesium and zinc, both of which promote quality sleep, Del Coro says.
Indeed, a January 2011 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that supplementing with a combination of melatonin, magnesium and zinc improved sleep quality in older adults with insomnia.
2. Tart Cherry Juice
Research shows that sipping on sour or tart cherry juice might help relieve sleepless nights. A small March-April 2018 study in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that drinking tart cherry juice increased sleep time by 84 minutes and improved sleep efficiency in people with insomnia.
This is likely because sour cherries are a stellar source of melatonin as well as the amino acid tryptophan, which is used by the body to make melatonin and serotonin, another important hormone that supports sleep, Del Coro says. (It's worth noting that this study was funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute, which states it had nothing to do with the design of the trial.)
Just be mindful to steer clear of sweetened tart cherry juice, as the added sugar may have the opposite effect on sleep, Del Coro says.
Kiwis could be the key to sounder slumber. That's because they contain the sleep-regulating hormone serotonin, Del Coro says.
In fact, eating two kiwis an hour before bed helped people with sleep problems drift off faster, sleep longer and snooze with fewer disturbances, according to a small 2011 study in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
When you were little, you may have found warm milk before bed soothing. And the same holds true as an adult: A glass of milk might help you hit the hay.
Here's why: Dairy milk is a major source of tryptophan, which, as a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, may help you fall asleep more easily and improve sleep quality, Del Coro says.
5. Peanut Butter
Like walnuts, peanut butter might boost your sleep game. Heart-healthy fats — which increase serotonin levels — are responsible for this shut-eye-supporting effect, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
6. Fresh Herbs
If you need some help winding down before bed, try eating fresh herbs, which can aid in relaxing your body. Herbs like sage and basil contain compounds that decrease tension and encourage sleep, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Try tossing a few herbs into your dinner salad or even your water bottle for a hint of earthy flavor.
On the other hand, pass up the red or black pepper in the p.m. as they tend to stimulate rather than soothe the body, per the Cleveland Clinic.
7. Herbal Teas
A hot cup of decaffeinated herbal tea might be the calming balm you need at bedtime. "The soothing aroma of herbal teas can help promote relaxation," Del Coro says. Some varieties contain specific herbs known to support sleep, including chamomile, lavender and valerian root, she adds.
Chamomile extract significantly enhanced sleep quality among seniors, according to a small December 2017 study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. The scent of lavender also improved sleep quality, per a March 2013 review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
And an October 2020 meta-analysis in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine found that valerian root could help promote slumber and prevent sleep problems (though the authors noted that more standardized studies are needed to validate this finding).
Double-check that your herbal tea doesn't contain any caffeine.
8. Low-Fat Cheese
As long as your tummy can tolerate dairy, nibbling on a little low-fat cheese might up your pillow time. Because low-fat cheese is ample in the amino acid tryptophan, it can help raise sleep-inducing serotonin levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Conversely, high-fat cheeses might keep you up at night as they require more time to digest, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Complex carbs like oatmeal are actually outstanding for optimal sleep. Just 1 cup of cooked oatmeal offers 33 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for tryptophan, per the USDA.
On the flip side, stay away from simple carbohydrates and sweets, which can slash serotonin levels and hinder sleep.
Believe it or not, salmon may have a sedative effect. That's probably because one 6-ounce serving of salmon supplies about double your daily recommended needs of tryptophan, Del Coro says.
In fact, people who ate Atlantic salmon three times a week for six months experienced better overall sleep and a positive effect on daytime functioning, according to a May 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Just 1 cup of tofu provides nearly twice the amount of tryptophan you need in a day (that's 212 percent of the RDI), Del Coro says. And 1 cup of edamame has 70 percent of your RDI.
As we know, tryptophan helps make melatonin and serotonin, which are both crucial for catching zzzs.
A list of foods that make you sleepy wouldn't be complete without turkey. That's because lean poultry like turkey touts tryptophan.
Matter of fact, one 6-ounce serving of turkey breast can help you hit your daily target of tryptophan almost twice over as it has 174 percent of the RDI.
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Diet Composition and Objectively Assessed Sleep Quality: A Narrative Review”
- Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: “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”
- American Journal of Therapeutics: “Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms”
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems”
- Cleveland Clinic: “5 Foods That Help You Sleep”
- Complementary Therapies in Medicine: "The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: A clinical trial"
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Lavender and the Nervous System"
- Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine: "Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: “Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability”
- USDA My Food Data: “Cooked Oatmeal”
- USDA My Food Data: “Firm Tofu”
- USDA My Food Data: “Roasted Turkey Breast”