Lights Out: The Best Foods to Help You Sleep

Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 15-May-2021

There’s no question that sleep is vital to our overall physical and emotional health. Getting the right quantity and quality of sleep has been directly linked to a healthier metabolism, increased energy, decreased risk of depression and a greater overall sense of wellbeing. But did you know that what you eat can have a big impact on your sleep? 

That’s because the level of key vitamins, minerals & amino acids in certain foods influences the production of melatonin in our bodies. Melatonin is what regulates our sleep/wake cycle including how easily we fall asleep, how long we stay asleep and how restful that sleep is. Before we look at which foods help the most, here’s a quick overview of those key vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

  • B6: Vitamin B6 is an essential contributor to the production of melatonin. B6 helps to convert tryptophan into melatonin and also aids in the production of serotonin. A lack of B6 in the diet has been directly linked to sleep issues and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral known for reducing symptoms of stress & anxiety and for promoting sleep. Conversely, magnesium deficiency is often cited as a contributing factor to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Often taken as a supplement, high levels of magnesium can also be found in specific foods as well.
  • Calcium: Calcium is perhaps best known for its ability to promote strong bones and healthy teeth, but calcium also has a significant impact on sleep quality. Without sufficient levels of calcium, the pineal gland in our brain isn’t as efficient at converting tryptophan into melatonin, which is essential for sleep regulation.
  • Tryptophan: As indicated above, tryptophan is essential for sleep regulation. It is an amino acid that is, ultimately and with the help of the vitamins and minerals above, converted into melatonin for sleep regulation.

What should you include in your diet for a good night’s rest?

Based on the above, it’s not surprising that certain foods are better than others when it comes to helping you sleep. With that in mind, here are some of the best foods for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Turkey: It’s no mystery why you feel exhausted after a delicious Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is exceptionally high in tryptophan and it easy to digest. This means that not only can turkey help you fall asleep, it can do so fairly quickly.
  • Salmon: This fatty fish has so many health benefits, but it’s specifically good at promoting a restful night’s sleep. Its high vitamin B6 levels increase melatonin production, helping you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and experience a better feeling of restfulness when you awake in the morning.
  • Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes are high in B6 which helps increase melatonin production. They’re high in potassium too which is also good for relaxing muscles and getting rest. Of course, sweet potatoes are packed with a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals which makes them a healthy choice overall.
  • Kale: This green leafy vegetable has skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade, and for a good reason. Not only is it packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, it’s also high in calcium. This makes it an excellent supplement for promoting good sleep.
  • Chicken Noodle Soup: Long thought of as the ultimate home remedy, chicken noodle soup contains high levels of tryptophan. It also warms up your body up, which promotes a soothing and relaxed feeling.
  • Bananas: These sweet, yellow fruits are chock-full of magnesium and make for an excellent bedtime snack as they reduce the effects of stress and increase melatonin production.
  • Almonds: While they may be tiny, almonds are an excellent source of melatonin, calcium, and magnesium, making them nature’s perfect sleep remedy. They are also high in niacin, a substance known to have a positive effect on mood and depression.
  • Milk: Milk and other dairy products are high in calcium and also contain tryptophan. Generally speaking, the more fat the milk has, the higher the concentration of calcium and tryptophan, and the stronger the impact.
  • Chamomile Tea: Chamomile tea is best known for its soothing effect on the body. It has specific flavonoids can with relaxing properties and also warms the body, which promotes sleepiness. Also, the simple act of drinking tea helps us slow down and gets both our mind and body ready for bedtime.

What food should you avoid before going to bed?

While some food can help you get a good night’s sleep, food with high quantities of stimulants like caffeine or sugar can do the exact opposite. Here are some specific items to avoid before going to bed:

  • Coffee: Coffee is high in caffeine which increases adrenaline production and blocks the effects of sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin.
  • Chocolate: While you may not realize this, chocolate contains a substantial amount of caffeine, just like coffee. Eating chocolate before bed can cause an increase in stimulation and wakefulness, preventing you from falling asleep.
  • Sugar: Consuming anything that is high in sugar will make you more alert and awake. Carbohydrates are our body’s primary source of fuel, and when they reach our bloodstream and enter our cells, our body gets a boost of energy, causing wakefulness and difficulty sleeping.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol, especially excessive amounts, can make us feel sleepy and can even cause us to fall asleep. The problem with alcohol is that it reduces our ability to enter into REM sleep and slow-wave sleep, the period during the night when our body fully relaxes and heals. Without these stages of sleep, we won’t get the rest and recovery our body needs.

Sleep is one of the most critical factors for ensuring optimal health and the food we eat, especially before bed, can profoundly affect the quality and quantity of that sleep. So, if you’re struggling with sleep, you may find the solution has more to do with your fridge than your bed.


Of course, if you need help with improving your sleep or learning more about how your diet may impact your quality of life, we can help. Contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.

Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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