20 Foods to Help You Sleep Better

Full of sleep-inducing substances like tryptophan, these foods can help you sleep better and longer.

Few things are more frustrating than desperately wanting to sleep, but tossing and turning instead. When you know you’ve got to get up early and then somehow make it through a grueling day, you might be tempted to turn to sleeping pills for a good night’s rest. But you may not realize that your refrigerator contains a powerful variety of foods that can help you sleep better. These 20 foods, from fresh cherries to miso soup, help regulate the hormones that control sleep, stress and relaxation.

Tart cherries

Tart cherries boost the body’s supply of melatonin, and they’re packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients. Eat fresh, ripe cherries, drink a glass of 100%, no-sugar-added tart cherry juice or snack on some dried cherries before bed (but watch it on the last one – the calories from dried fruit really add up fast!)


Tryptophan, the same amino acid found in turkey, is also in popcorn. Because it helps create the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin in our brains, it can be helpful in falling asleep. But skip the butter and oil; air-popped is best.


How can a food that gives you energy also help you sleep better? Almonds do contain coenzyme Q10, which helps produce energy inside our cells, but it also contains tryptophan. Try mixing them with some of the other items on this list for best results.


As a high-glycemic food, bread can definitely help you feel sleepy, especially if you eat it within four hours of going to bed. But avoid it if you’re trying to stay slim; it’ll pack a rise in blood sugar that could cause weight gain.

Jasmine rice

As with bread, jasmine rice has a high glycemic index, meaning it breaks down quickly and causes a sharp rise in blood sugar.  Jasmine rice is much more starchy than other types of rice, like long-grain.

Chamomile tea

Place some pretty little chamomile flowers in your teapot and you’ll be out like a light. Studies have found that German chamomile helps relieve anxiety in low doses, and aids sleep in higher doses. Use 2-3 heaping teaspoons per cup of boiling water and let it steep for fifteen minutes.


Packed with healthy carbohydrates, bananas can help you slow down a little bit. They, too, contain tryptophan, as well as substances that promote the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. The magnesium found in bananas also aids in muscle relaxation.


Most seafood contains tryptophan, but halibut is also rich in vitamin B6, a natural sleep aid. B6 plays a crucial role in the production of serotonin, and it can also help relieve leg cramps.


There really is some science behind the recommendation to drink a glass of warm milk before bed. Milk contains tryptophan, but another benefit comes from a surprising source: calcium, which can help lower stress levels.


It’s got all the same benefits as milk, but with protein to boot, so it’s a satisfying snack before bed. Just choose a sugar-free, low-fat variety to avoid weight gain or spikes in blood sugar.


Protein and serotonin-boosting vitamin B6 make chickpeas a great choice for a relaxing late-night snack. Keep some chickpea salad in the fridge, or try some low-fat hummus.

Green tea

Green tea does contain low levels of caffeine, so unless you choose decaf, you may not want to drink it right before bed – save your nightcap for chamomile. But drinking green tea throughout the day can help you feel more calm. It may also help relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea.


It’s rich in calcium and magnesium, and the perfect partner for some bananas, milk and honey, making oatmeal a great choice for nighttime breakfasts.


This sweet treat raises your blood sugar just enough to reduce the production of orexin in your brain, a neurotransmitter that helps you stay awake. Drizzle it onto your oatmeal or take it in your tea.


Choose a low-sugar fortified cereal as another great late-night snack that will help you drift off to sleep. The complex carbohydrates in many cereals can increase the availability of tryptophan in the bloodstream, and fortified cereals are often a great source of vitamin B6. Combine it with milk and bananas or dried cherries.


Yep, it’s tryptophan again, in yet another unexpected food. A cup of soybeans has over 122% of your daily recommended value of tryptophan, and edamame is the freshest (and some might say tastiest) way to eat soy.


The carbohydrates in potatoes make them another high-glycemic food that can help you sleep more peacefully. Try a small serving of mashed potatoes with milk, topped with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.


The amino acids in miso, which is made of fermented soybeans, can help boost melatonin production, helping you fall asleep. Miso also contains tryptophan. A warm mug of miso soup before bed might be just what you need.

Dark Chocolate

For the same reason that dark chocolate can help boost your metabolism, it can help you sleep better, too. Compounds in dark chocolate have been found to reduce the production of the hormone cortisol in the brain. This “stress hormone” is associated with weight gain, and the more stressed you are, the harder it is to quiet your thoughts at night. Eat it throughout the day to help you feel more relaxed, not right before you go to bed, since it does contain a little bit of caffeine.


Rich orange-red hued saffron, which is the stigma of a variety of crocus flower, adds lots of flavor to foods. It also has a “mood-improving effect” that could aid in weight loss and help you relax. In a study on mice, a water-based extract of saffron reduced anxiety and increased total sleep time.


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Photos:  kusine, ericabreetoe, jules:stonesoup, the unseasoned wok

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.