Just as caffeine can wake you up and help you focus on work, foods that promote sleep can make it easier to rest without relying on drugs or medicine.
We built this list by looking at nutrition guidelines, scientific studies, and other reputable sources to find out not just what foods promote sleep, but why it works.
Here are our top suggestions for foods that help you sleep through the night.
Figuring out the best foods to help insomnia or promote general sleep requires understanding the chemistry and production of certain chemicals. In mammals, a chemical known as melatonin plays a key role in adjusting the body’s wakefulness and helping sleep.
There’s a chain of chemical reactions involving base ingredients. Tryptophan (famously the ‘sleepy chemical’ in turkey) helps create serotonin, and serotonin leads to melatonin. If you get enough of the basic chemicals at any step, your body can help synthesize the rest.
The best foods for sleep, therefore, include some amounts of tryptophan, serotonin, or melatonin, or otherwise support relaxation. Drinks and teas that help you calm down and relax can be sleep aids just as much as those providing the necessary chemicals.
Human bodies are complicated, but the best foods for sleep are usually part of a healthy meal with multiple ingredients. Having a few pistachios and some honey in oatmeal is likely better than having just one of those ingredients.
The suggestions below are general advice for foods that will help you sleep. However, people living with certain medical conditions may not process these foods the same way. As an example, malted milk is on this list, but that’s probably a poor choice for lactose-intolerant individuals (a significant percentage of the world’s population).
Most of these foods are safe for most people. However, if you’re living with a medical condition that you think could affect your ability to digest these foods, talk to your doctor or another qualified expert and see if they have any alternative recommendations.
The 19 best Foods to Eat to Promote Sleep
Here are the best foods that are best to eat before bedtime and help you get the best sleep.
Pistachios are one of the most potent natural sources of melatonin, so eating a serving about an hour before bed can make sleep significantly easier. According to the National Library of Medicine, pistachios typically have over 225,000 ng/g of melatonin per serving.
For context, almonds (also on this list) have 39 ng/g. It’s hard to overstate the sheer value of pistachios as a natural sleep aid. Even better, there’s no realistic way to overdose unless you eat an insane volume of pistachios.
While it’s theoretically possible to have too much of any substance, melatonin is part of the body’s natural processes, and there’s no good information suggesting you can have too much of it. This is a sharp contrast to other sleep aids. Pistachios may not be well-known for helping with sleep, but they deserve to be.
Turkey is perhaps the best-known sleep food, especially with its connection to Thanksgiving and people’s preference for sleeping in the next day.
Turkey has a comfortably high amount of protein, which helps regulate the appetite and may help improve sleep quality. It’s also famously high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create melatonin and lures the body to sleep.
Eating a single slice of turkey won’t have you out like a light, but a modest amount around dinnertime can help induce sleep when bedtime rolls around.
Tea has a long history of helping people sleep, and few are more effective than chamomile tea. Most of the impact seems to come from chemicals known as flavonoids.
Flavonoids may sound like they’re a core part of the drink’s taste, but they’re powerful antioxidants that help regulate overall cellular activity. Flavonoids can reduce the effects of stress, lower inflammation, and ultimately help you relax. Some flavonoids can also help mitigate problems like high blood pressure.
While many people enjoy chamomile as tea, you can buy a concentrated extract and mix that with other foods or drinks. This can help you maximize its effects while limiting the amount of digesting you do and reducing the chance you’ll need to visit the bathroom at night.
Almonds are a naturally high source of melatonin, one of the primary chemicals in the body that helps regulate sleep. They contain about 39 ng/g by weight, which is considerably higher than most other natural sources. A small handful of almonds is usually enough if you eat them long enough before bed for your body to start digesting them.
Almonds also have numerous other health benefits. They have plenty of phosphorus and riboflavin, contain healthy monounsaturated fats, and may lower the risk of heart disease. Together, these facts make almonds an excellent part of your diet, even if you aren’t looking for foods to help you sleep at night.
We believe the best foods for sleep are those with other health benefits, so almonds deserve their place high on this list.
Many fruits can help with sleep quality, but kiwis stand out. They’re particularly high in antioxidants and serotonin, both of which can improve overall sleep quality. Eating two kiwis about an hour before bed is enough to trigger significant differences, especially when for getting to sleep faster.
Kiwis are also a good source of other vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C and potassium. Together, these make them healthy enough to earn a spot high on this list. Even better, kiwis are widely available in grocery stores, so they’re easy to access across the country.
Tart Cherry Juice
Tart flavors may not be the first thing that comes to mind in the best foods for sleep, but tart cherry juice has observed impact on restfulness. It’s particularly notable for people with insomnia, who may experience even more benefits than most people.
Tart cherry juice is reasonably healthy, with a range of vitamins and minerals. It also contains melatonin, which is a key factor for most food that help you sleep. However, unlike most products, it’s better to have some juice throughout the day.
An ideal level of consumption is two eight-ounce servings of tart cherry juice each day, once around lunch and once about an hour before bed. Over time, most people who drink juice this way will sleep noticeably longer and deeper.
Eating fatty fish about three times a week can help you fall asleep significantly faster. Options like Atlantic salmon are particularly effective for this, with participants in a study falling asleep about ten minutes faster than people who ate things like pork or chicken.
Some fish are natural carriers of omega-3 fatty acids which, despite the ominous name, are extremely healthy. (But no, seriously. Omega, fatty, and acid all in one name? It sounds like the worst thing ever.)
Omega-3’s and vitamin D, which fish also contain, can help increase the production of serotonin. While that molecule is mainly known as the ‘happy’ molecule because it makes the brain feel pleasure, it also contributes to overall sleep quality.
Fish isn’t quite as good at promoting sleep as some other options on this list, but its overall health benefits make it hard to pass up.
Bananas contain a comfortable amount of tryptophan, the famous turkey-associated chemical that helps induce sleep. Specifically, the body needs tryptophan to create serotonin, which leads to significantly better sleep. Moderate levels of tryptophan are best, though, as the evidence suggests that having too much can harm your mood.
A great way to mix these into your diet is by having a banana as a dessert before bed. For added effect, you can serve it with nut butter, preferably one like almond or pistachio that offers additional melatonin.
Having a healthy balance of different ingredients is usually better than relying on one food to do everything. If you want to improve the effects more, adding a bit of cinnamon is good.
Malted milk isn’t as popular as it used to be, though you can still see it in some higher-quality ice cream stores.
Malted milk itself is a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated milk. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, malting is a process where barley can germinate after soaking in water, changing its chemical composition somewhat and supporting the creation of sugar. It’s a key step in making beer, too.
Originally given as a dietary supplement because it’s easy to digest, the addition of evaporated milk creates a smooth, earthy, and savory drink. Milk has a little melatonin in it, and malted milk has additional vitamins that can help make it easier to get to sleep.
Malted milk isn’t as effective as some other options on this list, but it’s certainly worth a look.
Whole grains are a good source of the ingredients for serotonin, one of our key goals in foods that improve sleep. However, oatmeal can go beyond that. It balances well if you add fast-digesting carbohydrates alongside it, like honey and milk, which work together to provide short-term and long-term energy.
Meanwhile, the lactose in milk helps stimulate the release of insulin. While most people know that for its association with regulating blood sugar and diabetes, insulin is also good at letting tryptophan into the brain so it can become serotonin. That doubles up on the effectiveness of eating oatmeal.
Oatmeal isn’t powerful by itself, but its ability to combine well with other sleep-inducing foods makes it an excellent base. It’s also easy on the stomach, making it a good choice for people with sensitive digestive systems.
We’ve already talked about the way milk has some melatonin in it, but it goes a little further if you start focusing on fermented products like yogurt. The main benefit here is probably the presence of gamma-aminobutyric acid. Despite the ominous name, that’s a neurotransmitter that may help induce relaxation when you eat.
Fermentation is an important part of getting the benefits here because it can considerably change the makeup of substances available in your yogurt. The benefits of fermentation aren’t limited to yogurt, either.
If you want to get creative, you can put a tart cherry on top of your yogurt. This is an easy and natural alternative to drinking tart cherry juice and provides similar benefits.
Chicken eggs are a decent source of dietary tryptophan, which is one reason they’re also used to make sleep aids and stress-reduction products. A hard-boiled egg contains most of the nutrients that eggs have by nature, and since you can make them well ahead of time, you don’t have to cook the eggs right before bed to enjoy them.
Eggs can vary in nutrient content, though. Chicken eggs are easily the most common in the United States, but some grocery stores may sell other types. If you’re considering other eggs, make sure to look up their nutritional content to see if they provide enough tryptophan to help with your sleep.
With that said, many people see eggs as a breakfast food. They won’t help much with sleep if you eat them too early in the day, and having too many can lead to higher cholesterol. That makes eggs better as an occasional nighttime food for sleep, rather than something to have every day.
Avocado may be famous as a key ingredient in avocado toast these days, not to mention guacamole for Mexican-style dishes, but it’s also an excellent source of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the key minerals that help regulate the function of melatonin, so getting enough in your diet is important.
Avocados also have a decent amount of healthy fats in them, which can limit other hunger pangs as your body digests them. If you want to get creative, try putting your avocado on toast and sprinkling on a few pumpkin seeds.
This fruit may not have as direct of an impact on sleep as some other foods, but it’s important to remember that your diet is a combination of foods and not a single thing. Eating melatonin-rich foods doesn’t do much if your body can’t process what you’re eating, so a well-balanced diet will always be more effective.
Decaf Green Tea
Green tea isn’t one of the top things people think about for getting better sleep. After all, it has caffeine in it, and that’s the opposite of what we want. However, low-caffeine green tea is surprisingly effective at promoting sleep, and that makes it worth a place on this list.
Somewhat surprisingly, green tea has melatonin in it already, but its effects are usually drowned out by caffeine. As a general rule, the more decaf your green tea is, the more effective it’s likely to be as a sleep aid.
Green tea is also easy to drink throughout the day. It doesn’t help induce sleep as well as some other ingredients, but it can contribute to general relaxation. In turn, that promotes better sleep. The natural melatonin is a pleasant but secondary extra for this particular product.
Walnuts aren’t quite as good as pistachios or almonds, but they’re worth considering as part of your diet. Notably, walnuts have a wide range of vitamins and minerals, plus a bit of fiber in each serving. They’re an outstanding source of some important chemicals, including copper, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Walnuts are also a non-fish source of omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t like the taste of fish, walnuts serve as a reliable alternative. Studies suggest that walnuts can help reduce cholesterol, and some evidence indicates they help produce serotonin more effectively.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies directly linking walnuts and sleep, which is why they’re not too high on this list. However, they have enough melatonin to expect a real effect, so you can eat them about an hour before bed and see if they help you.
Rice is another dietary element that isn’t well-known for sleep, but studies suggest that a Japanese-style diet involving significant amounts of rice can provide a marked improvement in sleep.
Rice can be a natural source of melatonin, with the exact amount depending on the type of rice. Generally, pigmented rice has more melatonin in it than other varieties. Rice is also a source of complex carbohydrates, which may make it easier for other chemicals to reach the brain.
If you’re looking for foods that help you fall asleep, the best time to eat rice is about four hours before you go to bed. That ties in well with dinner at six and bedtime at ten, a common schedule.
However, it’s worth noting that rice’s effects are most obvious as part of a healthy Japanese diet, which also includes regular consumption of fatty fish and other foods that promote sleep. The expected results don’t come from rice alone, but rather from the whole meal. It’s also better to have brown rice, which contains more nutrients and antioxidants.
Passionflower isn’t quite as famous as chamomile for sleep, but evidence indicates that it can have a modest benefit in overall sleep benefits. Foods that make you sleepy come in different potency levels, and passionflower tea is almost certainly low on the list compared to other options.
Passionflower tea’s main benefits come from its flavonoids, which support overall bodily health. It’s particularly rich in the antioxidant apigenin, which has a well-documented calming effect that helps support sleep.
However, while it’s not a strong sleep aid, sometimes you’re not looking for that either. This drink is best before bed for people who want a small boost for overall restfulness and don’t want to eat anything. Remember to avoid putting sugar in, as that can weaken the sleep benefits of a good cup of tea.
Valerian tea is more inconsistent than some of the other items on this list. Not all studies show a meaningful outcome, and analysis of what’s been done suggests that varying levels of product quality could be to blame for its results.
If Valerian root is effective, we can reasonably guess that it works best at a higher concentration or purity, but probably doesn’t have the same level of effect as options like pistachios or turkey. That said, Valerian tea also has minimal evidence of adverse effects on patients, so it’s unlikely to hurt people.
We can’t recommend this as much as the other options on this list, but it may be worth trying if you’re looking for a mild effect with minimal risk of complications. It’s probably not a good choice for more severe sleep issues.
Lavender tea is another minor source of restfulness, with potential effects like reducing fatigue and depression. Lavender is a famously relaxing smell by itself, to the point that some manufacturers incorporate it into mattresses, and it may also act as a mood stabilizer.
Lavender’s effects tend to be most prominent in the short term, so it’s not among the best foods for sleep benefits over time. However, if you’re expecting a rougher-than-average time at work or a big project, it may work as a nice short-term aid alongside your other strategies.
Many companies mix lavender with other sleep-friendly ingredients, including chamomile and lemon balm. Mixes like these tend to have minimal impact from the lavender alone, but a solid blend of ingredients may be more effective for some people.
These are some of the best foods for sleep, each one with some level of science and research backing up their effects. Pistachios stand out for their stunningly high levels of natural melatonin, but you can also enjoy oatmeal, malted milk, several fruits, and assorted teas.
However, none of these mean anything unless you make them part of your regular diet and habits. For the best effect, try publicly committing to trying something on this list. Announcing your intentions to someone else encourages you to follow through and can help you reach your goals.