Sleep impacts every aspect of our well-being. It plays an instrumental role in maintaining our mind and body functions, and proper rest helps us build a stronger immune system, improves mental and physical health and keeps us more productive. If you aren’t getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours a night of quality rest, you risk having high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and depression. In addition, other serious conditions, like diabetes, heart failure or a stroke can also occur.
From taking sleep supplements like melatonin to changing bedtime routines, most (exhausted) people will try any number of tricks to sleep better. One area that many people overlook on their hunt for better sleep is their diet. What you eat leading up to bed influences how well you sleep at night.
Here are the seven best foods to work into your diet to help promote better sleep.
For more ways to improve rest, check out our wellness editors’ favorite sleep hacks, or see how sleeping with socks on can help.
Read more: Best Mattresses, Tested By Our Experts
How nutrient-rich foods help you sleep
The foods below help you sleep better because they all contain nutrients that can promote better health in general, and in turn better sleep. “Eat a variety of unprocessed, whole foods that are high in antioxidants and fiber,” says Josh Axe, a clinical nutritionist and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition. “Try to combine foods that provide different macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein), which ensures you’re meeting your nutrient needs,” says Axe.
He also adds that it’s a good idea to stop eating two to three hours before bed so you have time to digest your food before going to sleep and don’t run into issues with acid reflux.
Outside of the macronutrients, Axe says some micronutrients can affect sleep as well. If you suspect you’re deficient in something, you should ask your doctor to run labs to know more.
“It’s possible that a vitamin D or magnesium deficiency can interrupt sleep. Some evidence also shows that people low in vitamins E and C, and B12 and B6 might also suffer from more sleep problems,” says Axe. “Each of these nutrients affects sleep cycles in a different way, such as by playing a role in your circadian rhythm and body’s ability to produce melatonin and other calming chemicals.”
Eat these 7 foods for better sleep
“Sleep-promoting foods include those that contain tryptophan (an amino acid that helps with the release of serotonin), magnesium, vitamin D and complex carbs,” says Axe. “Foods high in vitamin C and B vitamins can also be helpful.”
These are Axe’s top picks for sleep-promoting foods:
1. Whole grains like oats or quinoa.
2. Proteins like poultry and fish.
3. Leafy greens and cruciferous veggies.
4. Free-range eggs.
5. Bananas, kiwis, oranges, berries and other fruits.
6. Milk and yogurt.
7. Nuts, like almonds and cashews.
The importance of a balanced meal
“A balanced diet can help manage blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, which is important for preventing pain and getting sound sleep,” says Axe. “Getting enough macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein) also assists your body in creating calming chemicals like serotonin and melatonin, which help you feel relaxed and sleepy.”
Certain foods can help you sleep better if you eat them before bed or when you wake up in the middle of the night — but the seven foods above can improve rest no matter what time you eat them. Again, the key to eating well for sleep is to eat a mindful, balanced diet overall. No one food is a magic bullet, but these can help you get some much-needed rest.
Your diet may not be the only thing affecting sleep. Learn how you can fall asleep faster by easing anxiety and how to sleep better as sleeping patterns change with age.