Ways to Eat to Improve Your Sleep

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When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep, where you woke up without your alarm blaring and felt energized and refreshed? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one-third of adults and more than two-thirds of high school students report inadequate amounts of sleep. Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep, and adolescents need at least 8 hours (10 is even better) for the best health and well-being.

Not enough sleep is linked with obesity, physical inactivity, mistakes at work, car crashes, and 10 chronic health conditions: heart attack, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, COPD, cancer, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes.

In addition to strategies to improve sleep (sleep hygiene) like including regular exercise, getting regular exposure to daytime light, establishing a bedtime routine, and sleeping in a dark, cool bedroom, food choices also play an important role in quality of sleep.

Foods to Consume to Promote Better Sleep

  1. Some studies show that short sleepers (people who routinely sleep less than the recommended 7 hours per night) don’t eat enough protein throughout the day. Include plain Greek yogurt, nut butter, skinless poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes (dried beans and peas like chickpeas, lentils, and pinto beans), edamame, or tofu with every meal (and most snacks!) to make sure that you’re consuming optimum amounts of protein.
  2. Tart cherries, not the sweet ones we typically enjoy, may help improve levels of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep. Bananas, pineapple, and oranges are also good sources of melatonin. Try combining all of these into a fruit salad and serve it with half a cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt for a great sleep-boosting snack.
  3. Walnuts are high in melatonin, serotonin, and total polyphenols, all of which help promote restful sleep. Try eating ½ to 1 ounces of walnuts 2 hours before bedtime.
  4. Foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that produces serotonin to induce calmness and drowsiness, can help promote sleep, especially when they’re combined with whole grains. The best bedtime snack is one that contains both:  think whole grain cereal such as plain oatmeal or Cheerios with milk, peanut butter on whole grain toast, or cheese and whole grain crackers like Triscuits.
  5. Two kiwis consumed about 2 hours before bedtime may enhance sleep. Combine the kiwi with ½ cup of low-fat cottage cheese, which is a good source of tryptophan, and you may see even better benefits.

Foods to Avoid to Promote Better Sleep

  1. Most people realize that caffeine helps us stay awake, but we often don’t know that the combination of caffeine and sugar found in energy drinks has an even stronger effect. It’s easy to fall into a cycle that begins when you feel tired and lethargic, so you consume energy drinks to feel like you have more energy, then find that the caffeine in the energy drink makes it more difficult to fall asleep at night, which leads to low energy levels the next day and –- you guessed it –- consuming more energy drinks.
  2. Frequent consumption of sweetened beverages, such as soda, sweetened tea, and fruit drinks, is associated with poor sleep quality.
  3. While we may think that drinking alcohol in the evening helps us fall asleep, it  actually disrupts sleep over the course of the night and can prevent you from entering the deeper stages of sleep. This may cause you to wake up still feeling tired despite having spent an adequate amount of time in bed.
  4. Poor eating habits overall, including skipping breakfast and other meals, is also associated with poor sleep quality.
  5. Eating 30-60 minutes before going to bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep. When we eat foods higher in fat and calories –- chips, cookies, and ice cream, for example -- during the hour before we go to bed, it’s even more difficult to fall asleep.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html  Last updated 3-9-17. Accessed 1-20-18.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html Last updated 5-2-17. Accessed 1-20-18.
  3. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep Hygiene. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-hygiene Accessed 1-25-18.
  4. Grandner MA, Knutson KL, Troxel W, Hale L, Jean-Louis G, Miller KE. Implications of sleep and energy drink use for health disparities. Nutrition reviews. 2014;72(0 1):14-22. doi:10.1111/nure.12137.
  5. Crispim CA, Zimberg IZ, dos Reis BG, Diniz RM, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine?: JCSM?: Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2011;7(6):659-664. doi:10.5664/jcsm.1476.
  6. National Sleep Foundation. Food and Sleep. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/food-and-sleep  Accessed 1-22-18.
  7. St-Onge M-P, Mikic A, Pietrolungo CE. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(5):938-949. doi:10.3945/an.116.012336.
  8. National Sleep Foundation. Foods for a Good Night’s Sleep. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/foods-good-nights-sleep  Accessed 1-22-18.

PDF Handout: Eat Sleep Handout

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