Sleep Foods: How Can Your Diet Help Your Sleep?

4 min read

Last Modified 15 September 2023 First Added 6 January 2015

By Peta Bee

What you eat and drink can have a dramatic effect on your sleep patterns. But, while your mother may have told you that there is nothing better for curing insomnia than a warm, milky drink, scientists have suggested otherwise. Milk is chock full of tryptophan, the sleep-inducing amino acid, but in a form that is not easily absorbed to be used by the brain. Much of the benefit from drinking hot chocolate or warm milk is, say experts, psychological. So, what to eat for a successful night’s slumber? Here is the latest evidence on diet help for a better sleep.

Porridge or toast

Louise Sutton, dietician at Leeds Beckett University, says that eating a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack, such as toast or porridge, 2-3 hours before bedtime can be helpful. Carbs stimulate the release of the hormone insulin in the body. That, in turn, opens the pathways for tryptophan, the sleep hormone, to reach the brain as they are absorbed by the body. ‘The consensus is that a carbohydrate-rich meal at dinner will help you sleep, whereas a protein-rich one is more likely to make you alert,’ Sutton says.

Oily fish

School of sardines in the ocean: how can your diet help your sleep?

Eating plenty of mackerel, herring, tuna and salmon – all of which are good sources of healthy omega-3 DHA fatty acids – could be the diet help you need to improve your sleep quality, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. Professor Paul Montgomery and his team found that a 16-week course of daily 600mg omega-3 supplements improved the sleep quality and duration of 362 school children (1). Other researchers have shown that adults with low levels of DHA in the blood are more likely to experience sleep disturbance. Of course omega-3 can also be found in a variety of seeds and beans, with DHA created by the body with high intakes of omega-3.

Tap water and tomatoes

When researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a comprehensive study of sleep-inducing foods (2), they found that good sleepers generally ate a larger variety of fruit and vegetables. But there were other differences. Poor sleepers drank less tap water during the day and had a particularly low intake of the beneficial antioxidant compound called lycopene, found in healthy red and orange-coloured foods such as carrots, squash and tomatoes. Consuming more of both, they suggested, could make a difference to your zzz time.

Sleep diet help with cherry juice

Drinking a glass of tart cherry juice every morning and evening may aid your sleep, according to a report Louisiana State University (3). Researchers there found that adults with insomnia who drank a glass of Montmorency cherry juice twice a day for two weeks saw sleep time increased by nearly 90 minutes. How?  The cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Read more about the benefits of cherries for sleep.


If you’re looking for some more diet help that will positively impact your sleep then look to white rice. Scientists recently discovered that, when it comes to sleep, eating a lot of white rice can trigger a deep slumber. Japanese researchers (4) analysed the diets of almost 2,000 men and women and found that a higher rice intake meant people scored much better on a sleep scale – i.e. they slept well. However, eating bread products – including white bread, pancakes and pizza – had no effect on the quality of sleep, while noodles and pasta were found to have a detrimental impact. This anomaly is yet to be explained, but it could be down to differences in the foods’ glycaemic index, or the effect it has on blood sugar.

Coffee and cookies certainly won't help you sleep. Find out what does at The Sleep Matters Club.

It’s no surprise that caffeine isn’t on this list, but, if you’re wondering what you should avoid, click the image to find out more.

There are so many conflicting opinions on which foods are good or bad for various aspects of your life that it can be difficult to keep up with current trends, but these foods will certainly help you sleep better. If you have any questions about which foods can help you sleep, please leave a comment below.


Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial; Journal of Sleep Research (vol 23; issue 4; 364-388) August 2014; Montgomery et al.

Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample; Appetite; 2013 May; 64:71-80; Gardener et al.

Cherry Study: research presented at American Society of Nutrition Meeting with Experimental Biology 2014; May 2014

Associations between Rice, Noodle, and Bread Intake and Sleep Quality in Japanese Men and Women; PLOSOne; August 15, 2014; Satoko Yoneyama et al

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