The Best Foods to Support Sleep 

by JJ Virgin on May 21, 2024

Getting a good-night’s sleep does more than simply help you rest up for the next day. It rejuvenates your body, strengthens your mind, and helps you stay mentally focused and in a good mood. It can also lower your risk for many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and dementia.  

Unfortunately, over one-third of Americans don’t have enough quality sleep, getting under seven hours a night.1 

The path to restful sleep isn’t solely carved by your nighttime rituals. What you eat during the day can profoundly impact your sleep quality and quantity.2 Focusing on foods with the right sleep-supporting nutrients can help enhance the quality of rest you get.  

10 Foods for Better Sleep 

1. Poultry 

Free-range organic poultry, including chicken and turkey, provides plenty of lean, sleep-supporting protein. Optimal protein intake provides numerous benefits for great sleep, including: 

  • Maintaining even blood-sugar levels throughout the night, preventing spikes and drops and warding off potential sleep disturbances from fluctuating glucose levels.3 Managing blood-sugar spikes also helps balance your stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with good sleep when it stays elevated.4 
  • Keeping you satisfied and full, curtailing hunger pangs and the urge for a midnight snack.5  
  • Managing the hormones that control your sleep cycle. This includes growth hormone, which you need for deep sleep, especially at the beginning of the night.6  Eating protein-rich foods like poultry can help you sleep more soundly and keep your sleep pattern regular by balancing these hormones.7  

Beyond its protein content, poultry provides tryptophan, an amino acid essential for producing serotonin and melatonin.8 Vitamin B6 in poultry helps convert tryptophan into these two neurotransmitters.9  Serotonin increases during the day to promote wakefulness and decreases at night to signal the body to sleep. It also calms your nerves by reducing stress and anxiety, facilitating relaxation.9  

As it gets darker outside, your pineal gland turns serotonin into melatonin, which helps you start to feel sleepy. Melatonin plays a key role in your sleep-wake cycle by working with receptors in your brain to relax your mind, making it easier to fall asleep.11 

Chicken and other poultry are also rich in magnesium, an essential mineral that helps you get deep and restful sleep. Magnesium keeps the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that promotes calmness and relaxation, in a healthy range.12 Research shows that over half of Americans don’t get enough of this critical mineral.13 

Try this recipe: Healthy Slow Cooker Lemon Thyme Chicken 

2. Salmon  

Wild-caught salmon is another quality protein source that helps stabilize blood-sugar levels through the night, preventing sleep-disrupting spikes or drops. Like poultry, salmon is a good source of tryptophan, which your body converts to serotonin and then melatonin.  

Salmon is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA. These healthy fats help lower long-term inflammation, which can affect sleep. Plus, omega-3s can boost the production of serotonin (and thus, melatonin).14 

Salmon is one of the rare foods rich in vitamin D (another nutrient that helps make serotonin), which is important for managing your sleep cycle. There are vitamin D receptors located in parts of the brain that control sleep. Studies find that having enough vitamin D can improve your sleep, lower the chances of sleep problems, and help with good sleep health overall.15  

Try this recipe: Blackened Salmon 

3. Grass-Fed Beef  

Grass-fed beef is rich in sleep-supporting protein and amino acids, including tryptophan. Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef contains higher amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids as well.16 

Grass-fed beef is also packed with iron and zinc. Iron is important for producing dopamine, a brain chemical that is linked to staying awake and controlling the sleep-wake cycle.17 Zinc helps with sleep by regulating the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.18 Additionally, zinc supports the pineal gland’s function, which produces melatonin.19  

Together, these two minerals support your sleep-wake cycle, ensuring you spend more time in the restorative stages of sleep. 

Try this recipe: Grass-Fed Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Sauteed Shiitakes  

4. Eggs  

Eggs provide high-quality protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids in their correct ratios, including tryptophan.  

Nutrient-wise, eggs provide vitamin D and various B vitamins, including B6 and B12. Vitamins B12 and riboflavin are other nutrients important for creating melatonin, which helps keep your body’s internal clock in check and supports restful sleep.20 Without sufficient riboflavin, your body may not be able to produce enough melatonin.21 

B vitamins also support overall brain health and function. They help maintain the health of the nervous system, which is essential for proper sleep regulation.22 Moreover, B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism, helping balance daytime alertness with nighttime sleepiness.23 

If you’re intolerant, eggs aren’t for you. If you can tolerate eggs, look for pasture-raised

Try this recipe:  Individual Baked Breakfast Frittatas  

5. Leafy Greens  

Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are excellent sources of several important minerals, including relaxing magnesium. Potassium, another essential mineral, helps keep the body’s fluid levels balanced and supports muscle relaxation, both factors for good sleep.24 

Leafy greens are also a good source of folate, a B vitamin that indirectly helps your body with the conversion of tryptophan to melatonin.25 It helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid that, when high, can raise your risk of heart disease and affect your brain function. Too much homocysteine can also lead to sleep problems and bad sleep quality. By turning homocysteine into other helpful substances, folate reduces its harmful effects on sleep.26 

You can get vitamin C from your greens as well. This antioxidant enhances sleep quality and promotes a refreshing wake-up experience, helps reduce inflammation,27 and lowers cortisol levels.28 By supporting adrenal gland function and reducing free-radical damage, vitamin C helps regulate your body’s stress response, further managing cortisol levels, making it easier to unwind and get a restful night’s sleep. 

The dietary fiber in leafy greens and other plant foods here has several benefits for sleep: 

  • Fiber manages carbohydrate absorption, helping maintain stable blood-sugar levels throughout the night, thus preventing sleep disturbances.29 
  • Fiber-rich foods increase feelings of fullness, reducing the impulse for late-night snacking that might otherwise interrupt your sleep.30 
  • Fiber supports a healthy gut, which creates sound sleep patterns.31 Your gut produces about 95% of serotonin.32 

Try this recipe: Stir-Fried Kale with Ginger 

6. Cruciferous Vegetables 

Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, provide many of the same sleep-supporting nutrients as leafy greens. Among them include magnesium, folate, vitamin C, and fiber. Cruciferous vegetables also contain glucosinolates. The anti-inflammatory benefits of these compounds can help manage inflammation that interferes with good sleep.33 

The compound sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.34 Both issues can mess with your sleep, leading to problems like insomnia, where you can’t fall or stay asleep, and sleep apnea, a serious condition where your breathing stops and starts while you sleep, causing loud snoring and fatigue even after a good night’s rest.35 

Try this recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon  

7. Berries 

With their abundant vitamin C, berries can improve sleep quality by reducing cortisol levels and lowering stress, making it easier to unwind before bedtime. Their antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, help regulate brain serotonin levels and protect brain health, ensuring more restorative sleep.36, 37 

Other antioxidants called anthocyanins give berries their vibrant color. These compounds also influence your body’s circadian rhythms by interacting with specific receptors in your brain that regulate your body’s internal clock. This interaction helps synchronize the body’s sleep-wake cycle.38 

The fiber content in berries promotes digestive health and fullness, further contributing to a good night’s sleep. 

One caveat about berries and other fruits: For some people with blood-sugar issues, even a small amount of fruit can disrupt metabolic health. I recommend keeping your fruit servings to no more than two a day. 

Try this recipe: Berry Cobbler Protein Shake 

8. Cherries 

Cherries are one of the few food sources that naturally contain melatonin.39 Cherries can increase melatonin levels, improving sleep duration and quality by encouraging a more regular sleep pattern. 

Cherries also contain anthocyanins, tryptophan, and essential nutrients like potassium, tryptophan, vitamin C, and fiber, all of which support better sleep. 

Try this recipe: Chocolate Cherry Chia Protein Shake  

9. Quinoa   

Quinoa is what I classify as a slow, low-carb. I call these carbs slow because they are higher in fiber, meaning their sugar gets released more slowly. They’re low because they are generally lower on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. 

Slow low carbs provide a steady release of energy throughout the night. Dr. Alan Christianson says eating slow carbs at dinner can help reduce cortisol production, helping you fall and stay asleep better.40 Quinoa also provides sleep-supporting nutrients, including tryptophan, magnesium, and fiber.  

Try this recipe:  Quinoa Tabouli Salad  

10. Sweet potatoes 

Sweet potatoes are another of my favorite slow low carbs. They provide good amounts of several sleep-supporting nutrients like potassium, vitamin B6, and fiber.  

Beta-carotene gives sweet potatoes their orange hue. This antioxidant can reduce inflammation and the risk of sleep-disrupting conditions by combating damaging free radicals.41 

Your body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is involved in making melatonin. Getting enough vitamin A from beta-carotene helps your body produce the right amount of melatonin, making it easier to fall asleep and keep a consistent sleep schedule.42 

Try this recipe: TexMex Loaded Sweet Potatoes  

Nutrient Support for Your Best Night’s Sleep 

Even if you eat well, getting enough nutrients to help with sleep can be tricky. Stress, too much artificial light, and not having a regular sleep schedule can mess up how your body makes melatonin, the hormone that keeps your sleep cycle on track. Taking melatonin supplements can help adjust your body’s clock, making it easier to fall asleep and have a better night’s rest. 

Melatonin works even better with other nutrients. We’ve combined 3mg of melatonin with other synergistic nutrients in Sleep Candy™. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) helps build serotonin and melatonin, supporting your body’s natural sleep cycle. Inositol and L-theanine can help reduce anxiety and promote calm. Vitamin B6 helps convert 5-HTP into melatonin. The result is your best night’s sleep, night after night.* 

Order Sleep Candy™ here


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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.