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Blog > 20 Foods That Can Help You Sleep (Backed by Science)

20 Foods That Can Help You Sleep (Backed by Science)

Along with exercise, food and sleep are two of the most important aspects of good health. The connection between food and exercise, and exercise and sleep is clear, but there are some foods that can help you get some sleep. If you want to catch up on some sleep, you might just need a nighttime snack. Not any food will do, here are 20 foods that are proven to help you sleep.

Foods That Can Help You Sleep Infographic

1. Milk

The glass of warm milk before bed is a classic for a reason–it works. Cow’s milk naturally contains melatonin, the hormone that aids in sleep. When cows are milked at night, their milk has higher levels of melatonin and is passed along when we consume milk before bed. 

If a regular glass of milk doesn’t quite cut it, a glass of malted milk can do the trick as well. Malted milk is made with a powdered flavored with malted wheat, wheat flour, malted barley, and sugar. The B and D vitamins in malted milk are believed to aid in sleep. One study found that consuming malted milk before bedtime reduced sleep interruptions. 

Make It Before Bed: Have a glass of regular or malted milk before bed. Or, have a bowl of cereal with milk. 

2. Kiwi

This green tropical fruit is often overlooked in favor of more popular fruits. This little fruit is a powerhouse of sleep-inducing nutrients and vitamins. Participants in one study found eating kiwi an hour before going to bed led to an extra hour of sleep. Kiwis contain high levels of vitamin C and serotonin that induce sleep. 

Make It Before Bed: Eat a kiwi with other tropical fruits, strawberries, or by themselves. 

3. Nuts

Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios make an excellent snack. These crunchy treats are also a great sleep aid. Nuts contain melatonin, magnesium, and zinc that can help with sleep. One study found supplements with the same sleep-inducing nutrients as nuts helped ease insomnia in older adults.

Make It Before Bed: Have a handful of your favorite tree nut before bed or snack on some trail mix or mixed nuts. 

4. Fatty Fish

The health benefits of fish have been praised for decades. Full of protein and vitamin D, adding fatty fish to your diet is a must for heart health. The occasional piece of salmon or can of sardines can also help with sleep. 

One study found those who ate salmon three times a week had better overall sleep than those who didn’t. The study also found that fatty fish contains high levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids that help produce serotonin. 

Make It Before Bed: Grill up some salmon or other fatty fish for dinner, or snack on a can of tuna for a midnight snack. 

5. Rice

One of the most commonly consumed foods in the world can help you get some shut eye. Carb-heavy foods that are higher in sugar, like rice, are often controversial when it comes to nutrition. While too much rice and wreck your waistline, research shows rice can help you get some sleep. Other high glycemic index carbs, or carbohydrates that raise blood sugar quickly, are connected to worse sleep. 

A study of Japanese adults found those who regularly ate rice slept better than those who ate more bread and noodles.

Make It Before Bed: Make some stir fry for dinner or have some rice pudding as dessert or a snack.

6. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries, the sour cousin to the sweet maraschino variety, have several proven benefits from sleep to relieving joint pain. Tart cherries are sold as a whole fruit, supplement, or juice. Tart cherries contain high amounts of melatonin that helps regulate circadian rhythms as well as antioxidant effects that promote sleep. 

A 2018 study of adults found that those who drank two cups of tart cherry juice per day increased sleep time and sleep efficiency than those who did not drink tart cherry juice. 

Make It Before Bed: Have a glass of tart cherry juice a few hours before bed. Many do not like the extremely tart taste of the juice. Add some water or honey to sweeten it up. Tart cherries can be difficult to find in most grocery stores–the fruit is in season during the summer months from May-August. If you have a sweet tooth, try making a tart cherry crisp.

7. Sweet Potatoes

This root vegetable is full of nutrients like vitamins A,C, B8, and fiber. Sweet potatoes are also full of magnesium, a powerhouse mineral when it comes to sleep. Magnesium is shown to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and improves sleep quality. 

There’s a reason why a piece of sweet potato pie or a pile on your plate at Thanksgiving can have you nodding off. Unlike white potatoes and other simple carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are a low-glycemic carb that are proven to help sleep. 

Make It Before Bed: Add sweet potatoes to your regular rotation of dinner sides. This versatile veggie can be cooked almost any way you want and works with a variety of cuisines. 

8. Prunes

Prunes, or dried plums, are a nutritious addition to any diet. This dried fruit is full of vitamins and minerals like B6, calcium, and magnesium, making them a great food to help you sleep. A study found magnesium-heavy foods, like prunes, can help you sleep and prevent sleep disorders.

Make It Before Bed: Eat a few prunes before bed to reap the benefits of this fruit. If dried fruit isn’t your thing, try eating a plum instead. 

9. Cheese and Crackers 

This classic snack and kitchen staple hits the spot almost every time. The tasty combo can also help you sleep. Numerous studies have shown that dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt help you sleep due to containing tryptophan, the famously sleep-inducing amino acid. 

While there is some evidence that simple carbs, like crackers, hinder sleep, there is other evidence that they can aid in sleep. One study found high-glycemic index carbohydrates can help you fall asleep faster than low-glycemic index carbs. 

Make It Before Bed: If you’re craving a snack before bed, cheese and crackers are always a safe bet. Avoid spicy cheese like pepper jack or other hot varieties. If you want to avoid white flour or simple carbs, try eating crackers made with vegetable flour or whole grains.

10. Kale

This dark, leafy green might be the ultimate superfood. Besides vitamins C and K, iron, and fiber, kale is high in both calcium and magnesium, minerals that aid in sleep, according to numerous studies. Adding kale, or more kale to your diet is a great way to get numerous nutrients and more sleep.

Make It Before Bed: Although bitter on its own, kale can be added to many dishes like salads. If you’re wanting something with a little crunch, try snacking on some kale chips. You can either buy pre-made kale chips or make your own at home. 

11. Whole Grains 

There is a lot of talk about the health benefits of whole grains. Foods like oats, barley, rye, quinoa, and spelt are all classified as whole grains. Besides containing antioxidants, iron, fiber, and lowering cholesterol and risks of cardiovascular disease, whole grains can help you sleep. A 2020 study found that postmenopausal women who ate diets high in whole grains were less likely to develop insomnia. 

Make It Before Bed: Eat a bowl of whole grain oats before bed. For even more whole grains, try eating a sandwich or toast on sprouted grain bread. 

12. Basil

This tasty herb is a great addition to almost any dish and a must-have for Italian dishes. Basil has mild sedative properties that can help you sleep as well as reduce indigestion, which can disrupt sleep. One study found that consuming Basil in liquid form or in a capsule, helped participants fall asleep faster and stay asleep. 

Make It Before Bed: Try a Basil supplement or Basil tea. 

13. Carrots 

One the key nutrients in carrots, alpha-carotene, is vital to health and related to better sleep. Alpha-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body. A Pennsylvania University study found that regular consumption of alpha-carotene increased sleep quality. The study also found that diets low in this nutrient caused issues with falling asleep.

Make It Before Bed: Nibble on some raw carrots with hummus or have a glass of carrot juice. 

14. Bananas 

This popular fruit is a vital component of many diets. High in potassium and melatonin, bananas help increase serotonin levels in the body to help you get to sleep. The high magnesium content also helps decrease cortisol levels that can interrupt sleep. 

Make It Before Bed: Add a banana to a bowl of Greek yogurt for added nutrients, or add some peanut butter for extra protein. 

15. Honey

This sweet comfort food is high in glucose and can help you get to sleep. Honey is proven to block your body’s production of orexin, a wakefulness neurotransmitter. A 2020 study conducted by the University of Saskatchewan, found that consuming raw honey improved sleep quality. The study concluded that raw honey can be used as a sleep aid in lieu of melatonin supplements for those who want to take a natural or organic sleep aid. 

Make It Before Bed: Have a spoonful of honey or add it to tea, oatmeal, or toast. 

16. Chamomile Tea

Chamomile has long been used as a natural remedy for insomnia. The herb, common in natural products has science on its side. A 2010 study on the ancient herb found that chamomile is an effective sleep aid, has anti-inflammatory properties, and can ease an upset stomach. Along with tea, chamomile is available as an essential oil or in a supplement. 

Make It Before Bed: Have a warm mug of chamomile tea or try making these chamomile cookies.

17. Tuna

This protein-packed fish is full of vitamins and minerals, mainly vitamin B6 which has long been proven to aid in sleep. Upping your intake of tuna can help you get this essential vitamin and help you sleep. Vitamin B6 aids in the production of both melatonin and serotonin

Make It Before Bed: Have some tuna salad and crackers or a tuna sandwich on whole grain bread. 

18. Lettuce

Is your side salad making you sleepy? While lettuce is not commonly thought of as a food to help you sleep, studies show otherwise. Lettuce contains the compound lactucarium, which contains natural sedative properties that induce sleep and helps relieve anxiety.  All varieties of lettuce contain lactucarium, Romaine lettuce has the highest concentration.  

Make It Before Bed: Add a few pieces of Romaine to a sandwich. If you’re feeling adventurous, try making lettuce tea.

19. Barley Powder

Barley powder is harvested from barley grass and is a common ingredient in smoothies and green powders. Long hailed as a superfood, barley powder contains vitamin B6 and tryptophan and is proven to help you sleep. The nutrients in barley grass also can help ease stress and depression. 

Make It Before Bed: Add barley grass to a smoothie or drink it on its own. 

20. Shrimp 

Another seafood that can help you sleep, shrimp as well as other shellfish like lobster contain tryptophan. One study found people who eat seafood at least once a week reported better sleep and improved cognitive functioning the morning after consuming shellfish in both children and adults. 

Make It Before Bed: Have seafood for dinner or snack on some shrimp cocktail. 

Along with supplements, exercise, and practicing sleep hygiene, there are certain foods that can help you sleep. Before adding new foods to your diet or developing a new wellness routine, talk to your doctor to see what is best for you. For even more sleep advice and mattress recommendations, visit SleePare’s website.

 
Emily Stringer

Emily Stringer


Emily is a sleep expert and content creator at SleePare. With over five years of experience writing and extensive experience reviewing mattresses, curating comparisons and advising on "best of" guides, she's well-versed in mattress technology.

Emily has perfected this method by personally testing over 200 different mattresses, so she's not only able to discern the overall value of a specific bed, but to assign its value to different types of sleepers.

Along with creating honest and straightforward mattress features, Emily enjoys spending time with her dogs and exploring her home town of Lexington, Kentucky.