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5 Food Ideas For Better Sleep

Updated on July 22, 2016
A good night sleep doesn't have to be just a dream
A good night sleep doesn't have to be just a dream | Source

Sleep trouble can be a troublesome secondary symptom of many medical conditions. It has been for me. The chronic pain, stress, and medications associated with my Rheumatoid Arthritis have all robbed me rest at one time or another, and as a result I’ve dealt with fatigue during the day. I'd heard diet was important, and that there are foods that help with sleep.

I wasn't sure how much difference what I ate could make, but I was willing to try. What I found not only helped me gain some understanding, but offerred new hope for getting better sleep. And happily, I did find myself settling in a little easier at night once I got more of these staples into my diet.

The Building Blocks Of Sleepiness

So why do certain foods help bring on sleep more than others? Well, it's a matter of chemicals - specifically, chemicals that our bodies need to produce in order for us to rest properly. ​

  • Tryptophan is a foundational element. An essential amino acid, it isn't naturally created in our bodies, so we must get it from our diet. Tryptophan is found in small amounts in proteins - eggs, meats and some legumes and beans. Tryptophan is used to manufacture the next building block, Serotonin.

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter derived from tryptophan. Found in the brain as well as select other cells, it is involved with neurological processes including sleep. Changes in the amount of Serotonin in the brain directly affect moods and mental functioning. Out of serotonin comes the next block.

  • Melatonin is a hormone derived from Serotonin. It plays a role in the regulation of sleep rhythms. When darkness is detected by the eye's retina, Melatonin is secreted out of the pineal glands in the brain. This triggers physical responses that encourage sleep, such as a lowering of body temperature and a slowing of the respiration rate. But particular foods can also set off this process.

The Kinds Of Foods That Promote Sleep

It might be easier to think of foods and drinks that don't help us in the sleep department - coffee with it's caffeine, and desserts that are full of sugar, for instance.

You may not have known that any of the foods on this list had anything to do with relaxation and sleep. But the great thing is, you probably have most of them in your fridge or pantry now. If not, they are as close as your nearest grocery store!

Jasmine Rice

This type of rice has a high glycemic index, which triggers more insulin and increases the amount of tryptophan in the blood relative to other amino acids.What does that mean? Higher levels of tryptophan ultimately lead to more melatonin production, and an enhanced relaxation response in the body.

Recipe: Jasmine Rice with Veggies

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small sweet onion, minced
1/2 cup eggplant, chopped
1/2 cup zucchini, cut into small cubes
1 cup jasmine rice uncooked
3 cups water or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp dried basil
salt, pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a pot to medium hot. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until translucent and soft. Put the eggplant and zucchini, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Put the rice in, and saute it in with the vegetables just until it's coated. Then pour in the water or broth, add seasonings, cover the pot and lower the heat. Let the rice cook for about 15-20 minutes till all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork, and let it sit.

Fish like Tuna and Salmon

Both of these types of fish, along with halibut, contain a good amount of B6, a vitamin that's needed in the process of making melatonin.

Poaching is a delicious way to cook fish. Check out this step-by-step video to learning how to poach salmon:

How To Poach Salmon Perfectly

Dairy Products: Yogurt, Milk, Cheese

Members of this food group contain calcium, long known as important for strong bones and teeth. Research has also pointed to a connection between a lack of calcium in the diet and sleep issues.



Whole grains such as barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, quinoa, rye and wheat, are high in magnesium. This vital mineral is involved with many processes in the body, including muscle contraction. As with calcium, it's been shown that not ingesting enough magnesium causes interruptions in the sleep cycle.

Nuts, especially Walnuts and Cashews

These nuts both contain high amounts of Tryptophan. And walnuts also contain melatonin of it's own for added effect.

Ideas for using nuts

Make a quick batch of Seasoned Nuts - click here for a great recipe:

Cashews can help you get ready for sleep
Cashews can help you get ready for sleep | Source

Prepare a Cashew Aioli:

Put 1 cup of soaked cashews into a blender, along with 3/4 cup regular or almond milk, 1 clove of garlic and salt. Blend them together for about a minute, or until the mixture is smooth. Transfer it to a small pot and warm it at a medium temperature for about 5 minutes. Mixture will thicken a bit. Store in an airtight container in the refridgerator up to 5 days.

Medical Disclaimer

This page is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians.


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    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 14 months ago from Canada

      Hi, Heather,

      I just sent you an email answering to your question about how I trained my mind to fall asleep in 3-5 minutes. Then I realized that maybe someone else would also want to know, so here it is.

      I designed it for myself after practicing Sedona (Releasing) Method) for a while. The training has to be simple in order to be effective. How soon you'll fall asleep in 3-5 minutes depends on how soon you stop resisting and surrender to this incredibly simple technique.

      Just relax in bed the best you can, turn your attention inwards, and casually observe what's going on, without identifying anything there. Do it for a few seconds, then start dropping it. Treat that inner contents as a weight, and drop it. Then observe whatever is left for a second or two, and drop it. Then again...and again...and again...and again---good night Heather and everyone else.

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 14 months ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Vladimir!

      Thanks for reading and especially for your comment. I would love to hear how you trained yourself to fall asleep so quickly!

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 14 months ago from Canada

      Heather---Long ago I trained my mind to fall asleep in about 3-5 minutes, but your hub has some very useful information about the effects of l-tryptophan. Too bad they took the capsules of it off the shelves ever since that bad batch from Japan.

      Thank you for sharing.