What foods help you fall asleep?



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@emmatalkshealth
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


30 April 2021

What foods help you fall asleep?

Foods containing a combination of healthy fats including omega-3, amino acid protein building blogs including tryptophan, complex carbs to support blood sugar, natural sources of the sleep promoting hormone melatonin, plus calming herbal teas or remedies including valerian, can all help support sounder sleep, plus our overall health.

Here I give examples of some nutritionist-approved food and drinks which combine these sleep-promoting ingredients the best:

1. Cherries

Cherries are hailed as sleep-promoting due to their melatonin content. Otherwise known as the 'sleep hormone', melatonin is secreted by your brain, usually in the evening, and makes you feel drowsy and tired, or in other words, ready for bed.
When your production of melatonin is inhibited a number of 
sleep problems can occur, which is why so many turn to melatonin supplements to increase their intake. However, before considering a supplement, I would look at natural, food-based sources. There are plenty of ways to absorb melatonin through your diet. Tart cherries are thought to be the most concentrated source of all, which is often found in supplements in the form of juice.

Recipe pick: No bake, cherry & almond snack bars

2. Oats

Oats have long been accepted as a calming, sleep-promoting ingredient and so can make for a nice choice in the evening as well as first thing.

Oats are particularly rich in the amino acid tryptophan as we'll go on to discuss in more detail shortly, as well as a lovely area of B vitamins, including vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6, sometimes known as pyridoxine, plays an important role when it comes to metabolism and energy, helping to convert certain foods into glucose and metabolising proteins. However, similar to calcium, this role can extend to the conversion of tryptophan.

Aside from your metabolism, vitamin B6 also works to help support the nervous system and one of the ways that it fulfils this role, is by supporting the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, an important mood hormone. However, if you aren't getting enough vitamin B6, this process may be inhibited which can cause insomnia symptoms. (1)

However, while it may be tempting to consider a B6 supplement, there are still plenty of dietary sources available. If you are going to use a supplement, though, I would recommend a B vitamin complex that contains an array of B vitamins.

Recipe pick: Coconut and almond granola

3. Nuts, including almonds

Nuts, including almonds are a fantastic, natural source of protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are essential components of your muscles and tissues, helping to give your cells their structure. When it comes to sleep, one amino acid in particular takes centre stage – tryptophan.

One of the essential amino acids, tryptophan can act as a mood regulator, having a natural, calming influence on the body which is conducive for sleep. It can promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone that can help to improve your sleep pattern by helping to produce melatonin.

As well as being beneficial for sleep, tryptophan may also support your immune system and help to improve your energy levels. Again, taking a supplement of this production is sometimes necessary; however, in the meantime you could take a look at increasing your dietary intake.

Nuts are also nutrient powerhouses, including copious amounts of magnesium. Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral that's responsible for approximately 300 chemical reactions within the body. It's essential for healthy muscles and joints, and can help to regulate your mood, converting tryptophan into the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Studies have also shown that magnesium can be useful when it comes to regulating melatonin(2), therefore helping to support your circadian rhythm. This, in addition to its beneficial impact on your mood, can help you feel more relaxed and calm before bedtime. Magnesium is widely available from food-based sources and if you want more information about why you should taking this miracle mineral, you can always look at one of my other blogs; 'Should you be taking more magnesium?'

Recipe pick: Cashew & banana smoothie

4. Oily fish

Oily fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 with some plant-based sources such as flaxseed, chia seeds or walnuts, competing for a close second place.

Preliminary trials have revealed that omega-3 fatty acids might be associated with a good night's sleep due to it's positive influence on hormones such as melatonin. (3,4)

As well as their beneficial effect on sleep, omega-3s are also vital for healthy brain development and deficiencies have even been linked to mental health disorders such as depression, which can also have ties with healthy sleep processes.

Vitamin D is just one other reason to include more oily fish in your every day diet.

Vitamin D has been linked to symptoms such as fatigue and muscle weakness but recently, the evidence is building suggesting that vitamin D deficiencies could well be closely linked with sleep disorders. (4)

This is quite significant, especially when you consider how widespread vitamin D deficiency is, particularly in winter. Of course, you can synthesis more vitamin D by spending time outside, as well as keeping up with your dietary sources.

Recipe pick: Grilled Honey Lemon Sardines with Herbed Rice

5. Good quality dairy

Ever heard of having a warm glass of milk before bed? Well, there may just be some truth in this.

Calcium is very important when it comes to your sleep patterns. One study published by the European Neurology Journal found that your levels of calcium are higher during REM sleep, and that some forms of sleep deprivation and insomnia could be related to a deficiency in calcium.(5)

This relationship is in part due to the role calcium plays in the utilisation of tryptophan. As mentioned earlier, tryptophan is an essential amino acid that can play a role in the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Remember, as much as good quality dairy including milk, cheese or Greek yoghurt can be a good source of calcium, there are lots of plant-based sources available too, which have the added of bonus of having magnesium in too. Some top picks from me include; kale, broccoli, figs, oranges, sardines, tofu.

Recipes pick: Kale & yoghurt smoothie

6. Chamomile tea

It's not just foods that can help support sounder sleep, but also drinks too, plus, many of you will know only too well, how eating too much or too close to bed time could overload your digestion and ultimately disturb your sleep, so why not have a warming cup of chamomile tea instead?

Chamomile is a well-accepted herbal tea option for helping to relax us ahead of bed time, but gently influencing many of our calming neurotransmitters such as GABA. (6)

Product pick: Heath & Heather Chamomile

7. Valerian

Whilst combining a good diet and herbal teas is a good start, sometimes we just need something a little stronger before bedtime to help send us over, and that's where something like the herb valerian comes in.

Valerian has been used traditionally to help support sounder sleep and when combined with Hops such as in our Dormeasan, can be a lovely option ahead of bed time. Take 30 drops half an hour before bed.


Dormeasan® Valerian-Hops works as a sleeping aid


  • Herbal sleep remedy
  • Helps restore natural sleep
  • Tinctures of Valerian and Hops
  • Fresh herb extract

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Dormeasan® Valerian & Hops

15ml

£ 4.75

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Herbal sleep remedy containing organically grown valerian root and hops. Fresh herb tincture.
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Here's what I recommend

As the A. Vogel Sleep advisor, I recommend Dormeasan®, a natural sleep remedy made from fresh extracts of Valerian root and Hops.

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