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Sleep Better by Changing Your Diet

Sleep Tips
Read Time: 5 minutes
  • Adopting a mindful approach to eating can positively impact your sleep quality. Consuming lighter evening meals, eating dinner earlier, and including healthy carbohydrates can promote better sleep.
  • Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and excessive fluids before bedtime can prevent sleep disturbances. Cutting back on caffeine consumption, particularly in the evening, and moderating fluid intake close to bedtime can contribute to a more restful night’s sleep.
  • Incorporate exercise during the day, especially in natural sunlight, and pay attention to lighting, noise, and mattress comfort in your sleep environment.

Did you know that what you eat can affect how you sleep? Some sleep experts and studies have found that adding foods that aid rest and eliminating those that sabotage sleep can have significant impact on a person’s quality of rest, especially when combined with improved sleep habits.

While not a miracle cure, good diet and overall good health will help a person sleep better and can be easier to achieve than you realized. Keep reading to see some of the top foods include as well as those to avoid when trying to get quality shut-eye.

Foods & Habits That Help You Sleep Better

Tryptophan and its effect on the production of serotonin help people sleep better. Food sources can be used to increase the levels of these natural sleep aids. The following lists may be helpful when trying to change your diet to help your quest for better rest.

Lighter Evening Meals

The old adage – Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper still holds true today, according to an article on Discovery’s Fit & Health site. They suggest having a filling breakfast comprised of a variety of food groups including grains, protein and fruit; a moderate lunch smaller servings of grains and proteins; and  a dinner at least two hours before bed. By eating a lighter meal at night, people who suffer from indigestion or gastro reflux will be less likely to have problems when trying to rest. The harder your body is working at digesting food, the less restful you are also likely to feel. Fitness Magazine also cites research showing that skipping midday meals and overcompensating with larger suppers can throw off sleep patterns and hormones.

Earlier Evening Meals

Eat your last meal of the day early in the evening, before 8 P.M. (or 3-4 hours before your bed time). According to an article in FitSugar, people who eat later are less likely to consume enough fruits and vegetables and also consume more calories than those who eat earlier, so eating earlier might help with weight loss goals as well.

Carbs for Dinner

carbs and sleep

While avoiding high-glycemic foods is a often a goal of dieters, some research presented in Fitness Magazine suggests that eating carbs can help boost production of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleepiness. The study cited showed improved sleep among people who consumed jasmine rice for dinner.

Don’t Starve Yourself

Very low calorie diets can make people hungry, irritable and deficient in many vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy, restorative sleep, like folic acid or iron. Fitness magazine suggests a well-rounded diet with vitamin-rich foods.

Small Nighttime Snacks

Do have a small snack an hour or so before going to bed, especially if you get hungry at night. Summarizing an article from Reader’s Digest, a combination of milk and honey or a banana may be helpful for promoting rest, as the carbohydrates in honey helps the tryptophan found in milk enter the brain. Foods highest in tryptophan include chicken, soybeans, turkey and tuna, though there are many other good sources. A light, low-sodium sandwich, protein and crackers, edamame and rice or other combinations could all be good options, but aim to keep it between 100-200 calories.  Others recommend protein-based snacks like nuts, nut butters or fruit yogurt. Experiment and see what works for you, but remember to avoid food sensitivities like dairy if you suffer lactose intolerance.


Do exercise early in the day, in natural sunlight if possible. Most people will raise their metabolism for several hours after strenuous exercise which can make it difficult to fall asleep. Exercising outdoors, running, jogging, walking will increase natural levels of melatonin, helping adjust the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Sleep Supplements

Valerian and melatonin are considered natural sleep aids according to an article in Today and in many other sources online. Both can be used for up to 30 days by most people if you have temporary trouble getting sleep.  Both immediate and sustained release formulas are available depending upon whether you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Always remember to check with your doctor before beginning new supplements though, as they can have side effects.

Foods That May Steal Sleep

Things to exclude from your diet including anything that stimulates your nervous system or causes you discomfort. This might include the following:


Consuming caffeine arouses your system, which is the opposite of ideal conditions for sleep. Caffeine tolerances and sensitivity vary by person. For some people, consuming caffeine at any time of the day can disrupt sleep, while others may just need to avoid it close to bed time. Several studies have linked increased caffeine with increased rates of insomnia, so this can be something to be mindful of if you are having trouble getting to sleep. Watch for hidden sources including chocolate, cocoa, soda, weight loss pills, energy bards, and of course coffee and tea. If you must have that evening coffee or tea, switch to decaf.

Excess Fluids at Night

Avoid drinking many fluids before bed; rather, focus on drinking plenty of water during the day and cut back within 2 hours of bed time. Many people have difficulty falling back to sleep after waking up with a full bladder or getting up to use the restroom, which may disturb your partner as well.

Indigestion-Causing Foods

Reduce fat in the evening meal as it can cause digestion issues, particularly for people who suffer heartburn or gastric reflux. If you have foods that you know result in ingestion such as spicy peppers or dairy, don’t eat these for dinner. MSG, a flavoring used in some processed foods, can also be a sleep disruptor for some people.

Following a solid eating plan combined with exercise and good sleep hygiene can all help you sleep better, feel better and look better. Each person is different, so what works for most won’t necessarily work for everyone, but knowing the basics provides a good foundation for figuring out your ideal diet and routine. Don’t forget to pay attention to your sleep environment as well – keep lights to a minimum, use background noise if you live in a loud area, and make sure your mattress and linens are comfortable, clean, and healthy.  If you have any tips for better sleep or other diet tips, feel free to share in the comments!

Christine Lapp is a full-time graduate student and part-time freelancer for Sleep Junkie. Since she was a little girl on the soccer field, Christine has had a love for sports, and she believes everybody should get up and get moving once a day. Now, she incorporates her love for exercise into her studies, pursuing a degree in exercise physiology. Christine understands that what you do during your waking hours has a direct impact on your night’s sleep. In our better sleep guides, she offers advice for developing healthy daytime habits to nurture a more peaceful slumber.