16 Foods That Help You Sleep

Many foods contain naturally occurring substances that bring on sleep; here are some of the best choices to help you settle down for a quality rest.

By Alyssa Jung
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    Walnuts

    Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin, the “body clock” hormone that sets your sleep-wake cycles. Additionally, University of Texas researchers found that walnuts contain their own source of melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster.

    Almonds

    Almonds are rich in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep. A study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that when the body’s magnesium levels are too low, it makes it harder to stay asleep.

    Cheese and crackers

    Old wives’ tales suggest that warm milk can make you sleepy, but the truth is any dairy product can help. Calcium (found in cheese, yogurt, milk, and these surprising sources) helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin. Additionally, calcium helps regulate muscle movements.

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    Lettuce

    A salad with dinner could speed up your bedtime since lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties and affects the brain similarly to opium. You can also try this brew from the book Stealth Health: Simmer three to four large lettuce leaves in a cup of water for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add two sprigs of mint, and sip just before you go to bed.

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    Pretzels

    Foods like pretzels and corn chips have a high glycemic index. After eating them you'll have a natural spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels, shortening the time it takes you to fall asleep. Normally, you want steady levels to avoid mood swings and insulin resistance. But if you are looking to get rest, the blood sugar and insulin increase helps tryptophan enter your brain to bring on sleep.

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    Tuna

    Fish such as tuna, halibut, and salmon are high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin and serotonin. Other foods high in B6 include raw garlic and pistachio nuts.

    Rice

    White rice has a high glycemic index, so eating it will significantly slash the time it takes you to fall asleep, according to an Australian study. In particular, jasmine rice in particular brings on shut-eye faster; research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate a meal that included jasmine rice fell asleep faster than when they ate other rice types.

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    Cherry Juice

    A glass of cherry juice could make you fall asleep faster, according to researchers from the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester. Cherries, particularly tart cherries, naturally boost levels of melatonin. In the study, subjects who drank cherry juice experienced some improvement in their insomnia symptoms compared to those who drank a placebo beverage.

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    Cereal

    A bowl of your favorite flakes before bed could help you get better sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The snack combines two components for getting some Zzzs: carbohydrates (from the cereal) and calcium (from the milk).

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    Chamomile Tea

    Steeping a cup of chamomile tea will help you sleep. According to researchers, drinking the tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative.

    Passionfruit Tea

    An Australian study found that drinking a cup of passionfruit tea one hour before bed helped people sleep more soundly. Researchers believe that Harman alkaloids—chemicals found in high levels in the flower—act on your nervous system to make you tired.

    Honey

    The natural sugar found in honey slightly raises insulin and allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily, according to nutritionist Lindsey Duncan on DrOz.com. A spoonful before bed or mixed with chamomile tea could give you a more restful sleep.

    Kale

    Green leafy vegetables like kale are loaded with calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Spinach and mustard greens are other good options. (More surprising calcium sources are here.)

    Shrimp and Lobster

    Another good source of tryptophan, crustaceans like shrimp or lobster may bring on an easier sleep.

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    Hummus

    Chickpeas are also a good source of tryptophan, so a light lunch of hummus and whole-grain crackers (to help the tryptophan reach the brain), could be a good way to head into an afternoon nap.

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    Elk

    This game meat has nearly twice more tryptophan than turkey breast, meaning you’re much more likely to nod off after eating it, especially with a side of carbohydrates to help the tryptophan reach the brain.

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    Your Comments

    • Brandy McNamee

      One thing: Without popup blockers, this site would be nigh impossible to use. I don’t think I’ll be back very often. Just something to consider.

    • RyeMan

      I noticed I was yawning a lot just reading this article :)

    • intranautt

      Before spending a ton on healthcare, write down the reasons that may be keeping you from falling asleep. Some of the reasons may be simple,but it takes discipline to act upon those. If all else fails, then seek medical advice,and take your reasons with you.