Better Sleep Starts at Dinner

By Lindsey O'Connell

Many of us are trying out new things on the regular with the hopes of calming ourselves before bed and getting a sounder night’s rest. We turned off our electronics 30 minutes before bed, we dimmed the lights, stopped sipping coffee after noon, and even sprayed our pillows with lavender. But, some of us are still struggling to get those zzz’s. 

What if we were to tell you that there are certain foods that may help us sleep better? Well, science has shown us that getting better sleep can start at dinner. Tryptophan for example is an amino acid that encourages the release of sleep hormones, and is found in some of the foods you love. How you eat also matters. Digestion slows when you’re laying down causing you to be uncomfortable when trying to go to bed on a full stomach. So eating a large meal late in the evening can also have an affect on your shut eye. 

To help you reap all the snoozing benefits, we’re sharing eight of the top foods (with recipes!) to add to your evening. Plus, the four things you’ll want to avoid.  Eat up and you’ll be having sweet dreams before you know it. 


Before we dig into what you should be eating, here’s a little breakdown on how sleep affects your weight. A third of US adults report they do not get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. Studies show that the less hours of sleep you get, the higher your risk is of obesity. Why? It all has to do with your hypothalamus, the region of the brain that stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and ghrelin is one that regulates hunger and food intake. Sleep deprivation lowers the levels of leptin and increases the levels of ghrelin, which may cause us to eat more. 


Almonds + Cashews: These go-to nuts contain magnesium, a mineral which acts like a natural sedative. Even a small deficiency in magnesium can lead to trouble in the sleep department. 

Eat Empowered: Cucumber Avocado Nori Rolls with Cashew-Carrot Dipping Sauce

Apricots: Not only pretty (and a Nutritious Life favorite color!) and deliciously tangy-tart, they’re chock full of vitamin C which can help relieve stress. Vitamin C-rich foods have been shown to help your body recover faster from stress, and fewer rattled nerves may mean a mellower slumber. 

Eat Empowered: Apricot Dijon Glazed Salmon

Asparagus: These green stalks are famous for helping us cleanse but they are also high in folate. Folate is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system and has been linked to anxiety and mood regulation, both which can affect our slumber. 

Eat Empowered: Truffle Roasted Asparagus with Shallots

Bananas: Sweet and creamy, this fruit is a source of melatonin, a sleep hormone, as well as potassium, which helps normalize heartbeat. 

Eat Empowered: Chicken with Banana Curry

Cheese: Particularly swiss or cheddar, cheese is a good source of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that encourages the release of melatonin. The hormone melatonin helps to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, increases sleepiness and may also increase the amount of time you spend asleep. 

Eat Empowered: Bowtie Mac and Cheese

Nutmeg: The smell screams “apple pie,” but researchers have shown that nutmeg improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and it’s also earned a reputation as a home remedy for menstrual cramps and anxiety. 

Eat Empowered: Nutmeg Shrimp and Spinach Pasta Skillet

Tart cherries: Considered a symbol of immortality in ancient China, this fruit is loaded with anthocyanins, an important type of antioxidant that lowers inflammation, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride levels. But they’re sleeping beauties, too, since cherries are a natural source of melatonin.

Eat Empowered: Chipotle Cherry Pulled Pork

Oatmeal: Oats contain more tryptophan per serving than turkey, the food famous for making you sleepy. This amino acid is converted to the feel good and sleep controlling hormone, serotonin. Not only that, but just one cup provides you with 60 mg of magnesium. If you have trouble quieting down your brain at night, a lack of magnesium might be to blame. Optimal magnesium levels are needed for getting your best sleep.

Eat Empowered: Mushroom and Herb Steel-Cut Oat Risotto


High fat meals: Heavy meals loaded with unhealthy fats and refined carbs, have been shown to cause disturbances in the sleep/wake cycle and disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythms and make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Added sugars: The sweet stuff will affect blood sugar levels, giving you a short burst of energy, before a large drop. As blood sugar levels fall, sleep can be disrupted in the middle of the night.

Caffeine: That cup of coffee at night may cause insomnia and restlessness. Try to avoid soda, coffee, tea and chocolate after 12:00 p.m.

Alcohol: Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but the quality of sleep through the night will be impacted for the worse and you’ll likely wake up feeling groggy. 

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

About Lindsey O'Connell
Former Editorial Director, Nutritious Life

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