Can't get shut-eye? It happens! Eat these foods for good sleep tonight.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
Updated October 30, 2020
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Few things are more frustrating than not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep. And while one or two nights of unrest may leave you less productive the next day, a lack of sleep over a period of days, weeks, or months starts to affect your health in more permanent ways, such as increasing your risk for certain diseases. But, a few small tweaks to your diet can make a big difference when it comes to getting a good night's sleep.

Check out these foods that research suggests may help you get to sleep easier and have better, longer, and more restorative sleep.

The Best Foods for Sleep

1. Kiwis

Kiwi Berries on wood table
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Eating two kiwis before bed helps some individuals not only fall asleep quicker but also sleep better and longer, according to research. Kiwis contain serotonin which breaks down to melatonin (a hormone that encourages sleep) in the body, so incorporating a serving or two later in the day or for a bedtime snack might be worth trying. Eat kiwis by themselves or incorporate into this Kiwianaberry Cream Smoothie or these Kiwi Wraps or Rolls.

2. Fruits and Vegetables

Abundant fresh produce piled high at a farmers market. Check out my
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We tend to look just at what we eat and drink at dinner or before bed when it comes to sleep. However, research suggests that what we eat over a whole day — or even a whole week — has a big impact on sleep. A top eating habit associated with better sleep is getting in at least five servings of fruits or vegetables most days. Make a batch of Roasted Vegetables for a Crowd for dinner, and then reheat leftovers when you need a quick veggie side. Or sneak produce in by substituting pasta for zoodles or squash like in this Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai.

3. Oats

Oatmeal porridge with peach in bowl
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Craving a sweet snack before bed? A bowl of oatmeal is a healthy choice that may also improve sleep for a few reasons. First, whole grains trigger the brain to produce serotonin, a chemical that causes drowsiness and makes it easier to fall asleep. Second, oats are a source of melatonin. Lastly, oats promote production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain. Enjoy a warm bowl of oatmeal before bed, or incorporate oats in other ways like this Quick Fruit and Oat Breakfast Bake and Clean Banana Oat Cookies.

4. Vitamin D Fortified Dairy

Dairy products assortment shot on rustic wooden table. Dairy products included are milk, yogurt, butter, goat cheese, mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, emmental cheese, eggs and hard cheese. Low key DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
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Most people don't get the daily recommendations for vitamin D, and research suggests that not getting enough vitamin D increases the likelihood of sleep issues. Fortified dairy products like milk, yogurt, and plant-based milk products are some of the best vitamin D sources, so you might consider sipping on a warm cup of Turmeric Milk before bed. Or opt for a bedtime snack like whole-grain hot or cold cereal with milk or yogurt. Two to try are Crunchy Sugar-Free Granola and Quinoa with Peaches and Creamy Yogurt.

5. Nuts

Sweet and Spicy Nuts in white bucket
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Get the Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Nuts

Nuts are a great way to get a dose of healthy fats, along with protein and fiber, and this combination provides satiety to keep you content both while awake and asleep. But nuts are also a good source of magnesium, and many people with insomnia find they get better sleep when they eat more magnesium-rich foods. Almonds are highest in magnesium, followed closely by cashews, peanuts, and peanut butter. Add some nuts to your day with Karli's Ultimate Trail Mix, or try this Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie.

6. Mediterranean-inspired Dishes

My Big Fat Greek Salad
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Get the Recipe: My Big Fat Greek Salad

Individuals who follow a Mediterranean eating approach that focuses primarily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, olive oil, legumes, and whole grains report having better quality sleep and fewer instances of insomnia, according to several studies. How this works isn't fully understood, although some speculate it's due to the abundance of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Regardless of the mechanism, it's a delicious way to support sleep. Check out some favorite Mediterranean recipes like Italian White Bean Chicken, Spanish Moroccan Fish, My Big Fat Greek Salad, and Mediterranean Quinoa Salad.

7. Cherry Juice

Cherry juice, close-up
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Several studies suggest that drinking a cup of tart cherry juice each day significantly improves sleep quality and duration. Cherry juice appears to increase melatonin levels, which aid sleeps, but antioxidants in cherries also appear to stop inflammatory compounds that disrupt sleep. Unsweetened cherry juice is slightly tart, so you may prefer incorporating it into decaffeinated tea or a smoothie like our Very Cherry Smoothie. Consider using soymilk in place of coconut for additional sleep benefits — soy contains compounds that improve sleep, too.

8. Salmon

Fresh salmon fillets
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Research suggests that a higher intake of the omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA significantly improves sleep quality and reduces sleep disruptions. DHA is primarily only found in cold-water fish like salmon, so look for ways to get at least two servings of salmon or other higher-fat fish in a week. Here are some ideas for how to work more salmon into lunch or dinner meals: Lemon Rosemary Salmon, Quick and Easy Salmon Salad, and Tuna-Stuffed Avocados.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100 Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award, and her work is regularly featured in or on respective websites for Cooking Light, RealSimple, Parents, Health, EatingWell, Allrecipes, My Fitness Pal, eMeals, Rally Health, and the American Heart Association. You can follower on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.

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