Therapy & lifestyle

Foods that help you sleep

We all know that the right foods can help sustain your energy throughout the day. But did you know there are foods that help you sleep better? Here’s a list of sleep-inducing ingredients, along with some of the best natural foods to get them from:


This amino acid has long been known “in doses of 1 g or more [to produce] an increase in rated subjective sleepiness and a decrease in sleep latency (time to sleep).”1 And since we don’t make it ourselves, we have to ingest it through food. Top sources for tryptophan, according to the US Department of Agriculture, include:2

  • Turkey
  • Pork loin
  • Chicken
  • Egg whites
  • Soy products
  • Pumpkin seeds


Found in all dairy products, calcium combines with the tryptophan you’ve eaten to create more melatonin,3 a sleep-inducing hormone that your body also produces naturally. Medline Plus suggests getting your calcium from foods like:4

  • Dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Fish with soft, edible bones (e.g., salmon, canned sardines)
  • Calcium-enriched foods (e.g., breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy and rice drinks, tofu – check product labels)

You can also get melatonin directly by drinking tart cherry juice.5


A high-glycemic meal (one that significantly raises your blood sugar) has been proven to help you fall asleep faster – if taken four hours before bedtime.6 Carbs help increase tryptophan levels in your blood, which is why WebMD recommends considering carb-calcium combos for evening snacks, such as “a bowl of cereal and milk, yogurt and crackers, or bread and cheese.”7


Once asleep, one of the things that can wake us up is magnesium deficiency,8 and it has shown to help lessen insomnia symptoms in elderly people.9 To avoid that, work magnesium-rich foods into your diet, such as:10

  • Nuts (i.e., almonds, cashews, peanuts)
  • Boiled spinach
  • Whole wheat bread, or shredded wheat cereal
  • Soymilk
  • Black beans
  • Bananas

Vitamin B6? We can’t be sure...

There are many online claims that vitamin B6 deficiency can cause insomnia. However, we don’t know of any scientific studies that prove this. And the Mayo Clinic groups using vitamin B6 as a sleep enhancement with other “uses based on tradition or theory [versus clinical research]” that “often have not been thoroughly tested in humans.”11



  1. Hartmann E. Effects of L-trytophan on sleepiness and on sleep. J Psychiatr Res 1982;17(2):107–13.
  2. United States Department of Agriculture. Nutrient Lists: Tryptophan(g). (accessed March 5, 2015).
  3. Barbosa R et al. Tryptophan hydroxylase is modulated by L-type calcium channels in the rat pineal gland. Life Sci 2008;27(82):529–35.
  4. Medline Plus. Calcium. (accessed March 5, 2015).
  5. Howatson G et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr 2012;51(8):909–16.
  6. Afaghi A, O’Connor H and Chow CM. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(2):426–30.
  7. WebMD. Sleep foods (slide 3). > (accessed March 9, 2015). Click the pictures to advance through the slideshow.
  8. Watts DL. The nutritional relationships of magnesium. J Orthom Med 1988;3(4):197–201.
  9. Abbasi B et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci 2012;17(12):1161–9.
  10. National Institutes of Health. Magnesium: Fact sheet for health professionals. (accessed March 6, 2015).
  11. The Natural Standard Research Collaboration via WebMD. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Evidence. (accessed March 9, 2015).


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