The 10 Best Foods for Better Sleep, According to Dietitians

It's the nutrients, not necessarily the specific foods, that you should focus on for better sleep.

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10 Best Foods for Better Sleep Lead

The secret to a great night’s sleep could be on your plate. If you’re on the quest for better rest, you may have already tried shutting down devices early, meditation, a warm bath, or a multitude of potentially sleep-inducing activities. However, there is one fairly simple, yet crucial component to sleep: the food you choose on a daily basis. Yes, that’s right. Look no further than your kitchen for evidence-based, sleep-boosting tools.

“Sleep is an active time for your body to recover, recharge, and repair,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, registered dietitian and author of The Flexitarian Diet. “If you are having trouble sleeping, it’s a clue your lifestyle may need adjusting. Improving your sleep quality takes a holistic approach.” This holistic approach includes lifestyle factors such as exercise, stress, and of course, your nutrition.

You may have an optimal pre-bedtime routine, but overlook the fact that diet is a key component of sleep health. Learn more about which foods to choose for better sleep and creative ways to eat them.

What Foods Help You Sleep Better?

Truth be told, there is not one ‘perfect’ food—or even multiple best foods—for better sleep. However, there are certain foods that contain specific nutrients proven to be effective in promoting better sleep. In fact, there is a plethora of research on the effect of specific diets and foods on sleep, however, translating this data into individual recommendations is challenging, as each body (including metabolism and digestion) is so unique. That said, if you eat some of the following foods, you’ll be able to reap the research-backed sleep benefits of nutrients, including melatonin, vitamin D, tryptophan, and more.

Cottage Cheese

Dish up some cottage cheese for a satisfying, protein-rich, pre-bedtime snack. “Cottage cheese contains the amino acid L-tryptophan,” says Jackson-Blatner, R.D. “Tryptophan plays a role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s associated with healthy sleep.” When you think tryptophan, turkey, and a post-Thanksgiving nap may automatically come to mind. However, dairy (including cottage cheese) is a rich source of the melatonin precursor.

The benefits of consuming cottage cheese before bed may extend way beyond sleep itself. Jackson-Blatner, R.D. explains, “Research found people who ate cottage cheese about 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed experienced better metabolism, muscle quality, and overall health than people who didn’t.” Looking for a pro tip? Skip the fat-free option and choose a 2% or full-fat cottage cheese product to ensure optional absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins K, A, D, and E.

Other tryptophan-rich options: turkey, chicken, egg whites

Tart Cherries

Often found in dried or juice form, tart cherries are a go-to for post-workout recovery. In addition to helping your muscles recuperate, the sweet and sour fruit can also help to promote optimal sleep. “Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s internal clock & sleep-wake cycle,” says Jackson-Blatner, R.D. “Tart cherry concentrate is the supercharged version of tart cherry juice. Each 2-tablespoon serving of concentrate has the juice of over 60 cherries.”

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland to help regulate your sleep cycle. Certain foods can impact the production of melatonin such as the following: cheese, chamomile tea, cherries, kiwi, dark leafy greens, and nuts,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., creator of and author of Read it Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table.

Other melatonin-rich options: eggs, nuts, fish

Chia Seeds

Small, but mighty chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are often known for reducing inflammation and providing anti-aging protection. However, emerging research suggests that omega-3s may also improve sleep quality. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (meaning the gold standard of scientific tests) revealed that DHA and EPA improved sleep time and quality when compared with a placebo.

Chia seeds are also rich in protein and fiber, which promotes satiety, or a feeling of fullness, that can help you to fall (and stay) asleep.

Other Omega-3-rich options: salmon, flaxseed oil, walnuts


While exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to meet your vitamin D needs, mushrooms are a close second. Vitamin D2 is the form most found in mushrooms (whereas D3 is commonly found in animal foods). Since D2 concentration in mushrooms may decrease with cooking, you may want to chop your mushrooms and add them into a dish raw (when possible). Cremini, portabello, and white mushrooms can be eaten raw.

Vitamin D — commonly thought of as a bone-boosting vitamin — has many roles in the body, including regulating sleep. While the exact mechanisms by which vitamin D affects sleep are still under investigation, some research shows that vitamin D deficiency is associated with shorter sleep duration and increased nighttime wakings. For longer, more restful sleep, choose mushrooms, salmon, sardines, or eggs.

Other Vitamin-D-rich options: salmon, sardines, egg yolk

Pumpkin Seeds

Magnesium is a natural relaxant that can help to calm and prepare the body for rest. “Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium,” states Jackson-Blatner, R.D. “One study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that magnesium improved insomnia and sleep efficiency.” In this study, supplemental magnesium increased total sleep time and reduced the instances of early morning wake-ups.

Magnesium-rich foods may offer the same sleep-inducing benefits as supplements. Jackson-Blatner recommends adding pumpkin seeds to salads in place of croutons or to soups as a satisfying garnish and crunch.

Other magnesium-rich options: hemp seeds, almonds, spinach

Sweet Potato

Good news! Research shows that consuming complex carbohydrates before bed promotes better sleep. Complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal, increase serotonin levels and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone), which results in higher-quality sleep. Complex carbohydrates (as opposed to simple carbohydrates like candy and most sweets) also promote stable blood sugar, which can keep you resting easier and longer.

Complex carbs are also generally high in fiber, which does double-duty as a sleep booster. A delicious win-win.

Other Complex-Carbohydrate-rich options: oatmeal, peas, chickpeas


Incorporating iron-rich foods into your diet is a must for muscle growth — and sleep. In fact, iron deficiency is associated with an increased incidence of sleep disorders. Loading up on iron-rich foods, like spinach, can help to prevent a deficiency from occurring. Pro tip: Combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C food sources (think lemons, oranges, or broccoli) to boost iron absorption.

It's important to note that spinach is a source of non-heme (or plant) iron, which isn't as well absorbed as the animal (aka heme) form. If you eat animal products, add some meat, fish, or poultry to your plate to reap the sleep-boosting benefits of heme iron.

Other iron-rich options: meat, fish, poultry


To get your daily B-vitamin fix, load up on chickpeas. Each 1-cup serving contains almost 14% of your daily needs of B6 and folate.

The group of eight B vitamins known as 'B-complex' is crucial for promoting healthy sleep. B6 and B12, specifically, play a role in better sleep due to their part in the production of serotonin and melatonin. Need another reason to cook up some B-12-rich chickpeas? Some research suggests that vitamin B12 deficiency (also known as pernicious anemia) may be associated with reduced sleep quality.

Other B-Complex-rich options: broccoli, brussels sprouts, peas


Beans, beans, they're good for your...sleep! Versatile, plant-protein-packed beans are rich in fiber, a key ingredient for a great night of rest. In fact, evidence shows that high-fiber diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are associated with better sleep quality. Loading up on leafy greens, fruit, legumes, and beans is a tasty (and easy) way to meet your daily fiber goals.

While dry beans can be cumbersome to soak and cook, canned beans are a quick option. Simply drain the beans, rinse them well with water, and add them to your favorite recipe for a fiber and protein-rich sleep boost. Not a fan of the texture of regular beans? Try blending white beans into hummus or whipping up some black bean brownies.

Other fiber-rich options: berries, avocados, broccoli

Dairy Milk

Yes, it’s true that a glass of warm milk may help you sleep better. The combination of calcium, tryptophan, vitamin D, and magnesium may be the perfect concoction to send you into dreamland. “New research suggests that the casein protein in cow’s milk interacts with trypsin, a digestive enzyme in the stomach, to produce a sleep-enhancing peptide complex called CTH (casein tryptic hydrolysate),” explains Jackson-Blatner, R.D. “Plus the added vitamin D in milk may also play a role in maintaining healthful sleep.”

While casein protein may have a direct effect on sleep, protein in general helps to promote satiety, ensuring that you won’t wake up hungry. Aim to include a source of protein in each of your meals and snacks.

Other protein-rich options: eggs, lentils, almonds

How to Incorporate Sleep-Boosting Foods Into Your Diet

Adding these groups of nutrient-dense foods into your diet can be fun and tasty. There are various sources for each nutrient, so you can find options that you like and that meet your nutrition needs. Some ideas include:

  • Snacks: Choose a mix of protein, fiber, and fat to boost satiety between meals, while also supporting your sleep health. Create your own trail mix with magnesium-filled pumpkin seeds and melatonin-rich dried tart cherries. For a savory treat, roast up some sweet potato chips and dip them in guacamole or seed butter.
  • Salads: Incorporate iron-rich leafy greens such as spinach and kale into your salads. Be sure to add a satisfying complex carbohydrate (sweet potatoes are a favorite). Add an omega-3 fat source, such as walnuts, avocado, or salmon for extra staying power.
  • Smoothies: Make a sleep-inducing smoothie by incorporating ingredients from each category, such as magnesium-rich almonds, iron-rich spinach, and fiber-rich berries.

If you need individualized meal ideas or support, consider consulting a physician or registered dietitian to get a personalized recommendation.

A Note on Accessibility

Many of these foods can be on the more expensive side, so it’s always an option to opt for frozen or canned varieties where possible. While they may be an investment, these foods have benefits way beyond sleep. They’re excellent for digestion, disease prevention, and general well-being.

Foods to Avoid for Better Sleep

In general, all foods fit into a healthy, balanced diet, unless you have specific allergies or limitations. That said, there are some types of food and cooking methods that may not be beneficial for sleep. These include:

  • Fried foods
  • Fatty cuts of meat (ribs, bacon, etc.)
  • High-sugar and highly processed foods
  • Spicy foods

“[Some] foods can keep us tossing and turning like sugary, salty, and spicy foods. Although alcoholic beverages may help you fall asleep, it doesn’t help you stay asleep,” says Taub-Dix, R.D. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are also substances to avoid if better sleep is your goal

Lifestyle Factors for Better Sleep

The bottom line is: incorporating these foods into your diet may help you sleep better; however, sleep health is dependent on many factors. When it comes to sleep hygiene, food is only one piece of the puzzle. Meditating, shutting down screens, gentle exercise, breathwork, and journaling may help you wind down before bed.

Jackson-Blatner, R.D.'s Go-To Healthy Sleep Tips

  • Go to bed and wake up about the same time every day, including weekends to keep your body clock on a schedule.
  • Keep it dark in the evening to signal sleepiness & bright in the morning to signal awareness.
  • Consider using a sleep mask, research suggests it may help sleep by decreasing cortisol (stress hormone) and increasing melatonin (sleep hormone).
  • Have a relaxing night ritual to get your body cued for bed such as taking a shower, reading a book, or drinking herbal tea.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bed, it will disrupt the quality of your sleep if your stomach is busy digesting food.
  • Turn off electronics (phone, computer, tv) one hour before bed to help decrease stimulation.
  • Don’t chug too much water before bed since it can disturb sleep with a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

Is there one critical piece that may help boost your zzzs? “The key is knowing yourself,” explains Taub-Dix, R.D. She encourages people to figure out what stimulates them, and then actively create a routine that promotes rest. In addition to reducing screentime, Taub-Dix, R.D. recommends breathwork. “The 4-7-8 method of slowly breathing in for a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7, and then exhaling for a count of 8.” Breathe deeply, eat well, and sleep tight.

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