Food and Sleep

There are many factors that can contribute to a good night’s sleep. One important factor could be the foods that we eat and the foods that comprise our diet. Certain foods contain tryptophan which is an amino acid that induces sleep. Tryptophan is known as an “insomnia buster” that aids in the biochemical production of serotonin and melatonin, both of which are brain chemicals that help calm the nerves and promote sleep. Tryptophan is commonly found in dairy foods, poultry, legumes, fruits and grains. Low level of both serotonin and melatonin in your system can lead to fatigue and insomnia.

Here are some foods that have been known to calm the nerves and help you sleep better:


Pumpkin Seeds

The combination of tryptophan and carbohydrates is the key when selecting the right bed time snack. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of tryptophan. They can be eaten raw or in a roasted form. Along with their sleep benefits, pumpkin seeds provide essential fatty acids, protein, minerals and vitamins. In addition, pumpkin seeds contain a high amount of phytosterols which aids in reducing cholesterol and heart disease.

Oatmeal or Oats

A nice warm bowl of oatmeal or oats is a great bed time snack. Try to have it at least an hour before sleep as it triggers the release of insulin. This in turn clears the amino acids that compete with tryptophan that run in the blood stream, which better facilitates the movement of sleep-inducing amino acids, allowing more of them to enter the brain.

Dairy Products

The correlation between low levels of calcium and sleep problems have been highlighted by recent research. People who have low level of calcium intake are more prone to sleep problems. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium. Yogurts, milk and cheese are great for calcium intake and contain tryptophan. Cottage cheese and crackers are a good bed time snack you can have an hour before sleep.

Poultry and Eggs

Low protein and high carbohydrate foods make for good serotonin producing snacks. Turkey is known to contain a high level of tryptophan. One or two slices of turkey with wholemeal (whole grain) bread can make for a great snack before you hit the sack. It is important to note that you have to keep protein intake down as too much protein can create unwanted brain activity at night time.


Pretzels are a good source of low-fat carbohydrates. Coupled with a dairy source such as low-fat yogurt or milk, they can provide you with a nice sleep-inducing supper.


There are not many natural foods which contain melatonin but cherries are an exception. They contain melatonin which is the body’s natural sleep regulator. Cherries in their various forms such as fresh cherries, cherry juice and dried cherries are therefore a good sleep aid. Eating them an hour before bedtime can help induce sleep.

Fruits and Vegetables

Grapes, mangoes, bananas, oranges and grapefruits all contain smaller amounts of melatonin and are thus decent sleep foods. Vegetables such as broccoli, green peas, brussel sprouts, asparagus, pumpkin, cauliflower and snap peas are also good serotonin producing foods.

Please note that eating a high carbohydrate can make you put on unwanted weight especially when eating late at night. In keeping with the theme of low protein/high carbohydrates snacks, it would be wise to swap the “high carbohydrates” with high fibre food varieties such as vegetables.

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