The best foods to eat before bed include those that contain melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your daily sleep/wake cycle
Foods with melatonin include pistachios, tart cherries, bananas, and milk
Eating before bed is okay if you eat a light, healthy snack that includes foods containing melatonin and other foods that make you sleepy
Getting a good night’s sleep plays an important role in your overall health and well-being. But would you be surprised to know that what you eat can affect the quality of your shut-eye? You’ve probably already experienced the wake-me-up jolt of caffeine in a morning cup of coffee or the desire to nap after a big Thanksgiving dinner. But you might not associate what to eat at night with whether you can fall asleep—or stay asleep—later that night.
So, what foods help you sleep? Conversely, are there foods to avoid before bed? Knowing which foods promote sleep and which foods might disrupt sleep can make a big difference in sleep quality.
Food To Help You Sleep
Thanks to the different nutrients in food, some can boost your energy and alertness (great for daytime) while others can promote that sleepy-time feeling (great for evening). Many of the best foods for sleep contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body make the neurotransmitter serotonin that can be converted into the sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin.1,2 (Read More: Melatonin Information) Created in the body in response to darkness, melatonin plays a role in the body’s internal clock that regulates your daily sleep/wake cycle (a.k.a. circadian rhythm).
But what foods have melatonin? For example, are bananas high in melatonin? What about tart cherries? Is it good to eat yogurt at night? Does milk make you sleepy? A general guideline to follow for a light bedtime snack that may help induce sleep is picking items that have a mix of calcium, potassium, magnesium, tryptophan, and B6.2 When you eat foods containing melatonin, the melatonin levels in your blood may increase. And the more melatonin present in your body, the easier it should be to fall asleep.6
Foods that may make you sleepy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
(Listed in alphabetical order)
Bananas (bananas aren’t high in melatonin, but they do provide magnesium benefits, which can help relax the muscles)
Fish (especially fatty fish, like salmon and tuna)
Nuts and nut butters (such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts)
Poultry (contains tryptophan)
Seeds (including flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds)
Teas (herbal varieties such as chamomile and peppermint are particularly sleep-promoting)
Whole grains (think whole-wheat toast or oatmeal, which trigger serotonin release, which can lead to an increase in melatonin)
Foods With Melatonin 6, 7
233,000 ng/g DW*
6,800 ± 60 ng/g DW
5000-6800 ng/g DW
4,300 – 6,400 ng/g DW
1,089 ng/g DW
Sprouted Kidney Beans
529 ng/g DW
White mustard seeds
189 ng/g DW
182 ± 1.6 ng/g DW
8.9–158.9 ng/g DW
125 ± 15 ng/g DW
82.3 ± 6.0 ng/g FW
14 ng/g FW
15-24 ng/g FW / 250 ng/g DW
12 ng/g FW / 93 ng/g DW
* DW, based on dry weight; FW, based on fresh weight
Note: There is a range in varieties, climate and growing conditions of most foods listed, therefore their nutrient profile, including the amount of melatonin, can be inconsistent.
Foods That Keep You Awake
Once you know that foods like milk or a banana before bed may help promote sleep, you’re probably wondering which foods to avoid that may interfere with a good night’s sleep. In general, it helps to avoid eating a large meal before bedtime; Instead, if you’re hungry in the evening, eat a light, healthy snack.8 In looking at the above list, consider drinking a warm glass of milk and munching on a handful of almonds, for example. It also helps to limit the fluids you drink before bedtime to avoid sleep-disturbing trips to the bathroom.
More specifically, here are foods to avoid before bed: 3, 4, 5
Aged or processed cheeses (they contain tyramine, which might stimulate the brain)
Spicy or acidic foods (they can cause heartburn or indigestion)
Sugary beverages and sweets (such as candy, cakes, cookies, ice cream, soda, etc. as these foods may make you sleepy, but they can also make it more difficult to stay asleep throughout the night 9)
The Bottom Line
When it comes to a solid night’s sleep, one part of the equation is to know what to eat before bed and what not to eat. To help put yourself on the path to slumber, eat sleep-friendly, melatonin-containing foods, such as pistachios or tart cherry juice. Avoid sleep-disrupting foods and beverages such as alcohol, caffeine, high-fat and spicy foods, and sweets.9 You may also consider taking a melatonin supplement to help you fall asleep faster and support a healthy sleep/wake cycle.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.