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What to Eat (and Avoid) When You Want a Good Night’s Sleep

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Samantha Domingo, Psy.D.
March 27, 2024

Getting quality sleep each night is key to optimal physical health and mental well‑being. But it can also be easier said than done. In fact, 33% of adults across the United States feel they don’t get enough shut-eye.

Various factors can disrupt your sleep schedule, but one that’s often overlooked? Your diet.

“The macronutrients of food, such as the amount of calories, protein, and fiber, may influence sleep,” says Chester Wu, M.D., a psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist based in Houston.

Here’s what to know.

Foods That Promote Quality Sleep

Eating more of these foods containing natural sleep-promoting components may help improve your slumber.


In particular, tart cherries and tart cherry juice. Studies suggest they may help increase levels of the sleep hormone melatonin in the body, which can help you fall asleep faster and stay sleeping longer.


Kiwifruit is also known to contain melatonin, and research suggests eating more kiwis may help improve sleep quality and quantity.


Oily fish, like salmon and sardines, contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which have been associated with improved sleep quality.


Many types of nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios, and almonds, contain melatonin and may help regulate sleep. Opt for raw (not roasted) for the biggest impact.

Pumpkin Seeds

These seeds are a good source of the amino acid tryptophan and the mineral magnesium, both of which help promote sleep.

Whole Grains

These complex carbs not only contain magnesium and tryptophan but also help raise levels of serotonin, the “happy” hormone, and reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, to help promote sleep. They even contain selenium, which helps relieve bedtime restlessness that can get in the way of good sleep.

Foods That Negatively Affect Sleep Quality and Duration

Consider limiting your intake of these foods that can make it harder to fall (and stay) asleep.


It may be time to rethink that nightcap. “While it may help people initially fall asleep, alcohol actually leads to more fragmented, inefficient sleep, particularly in the second half of the night,” Wu says.


Set an early cutoff time to have coffee, colas, and energy drinks. “Caffeine is a stimulant and works by blocking adenosine which normally promotes sleepiness,” says Wu, who notes that its effects can last up to 12 hours.

Sugary Foods

High sugar intake has been associated with insomnia, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and clinical sleep specialist based in Manhattan Beach, California.

Fatty Foods

“Consuming saturated fats and trans fats is linked with sleep problems such as insomnia and reduced total sleep time,” Breus says. Saturated fats can be found in meat, eggs, full-fat dairy products, and oils like palm oil or coconut oil. Trans fats can be found in margarine, fried foods, and store-bought pastries and cookies.

Spicy Foods

If you're a hot sauce and chili pepper lover, you may want to confine your fiery passion to lunchtime. Spicy foods can make it more difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and interfere with your ability to fall into a deep sleep, says Breus. You can blame the indigestion that can follow a spicy meal, or the fact that eating spicy foods can actually raise your core body temperature, which can affect sleep.

Acidic Foods

“Acidic foods can be difficult to digest and increase reflux, which may also negatively impact sleep,” Wu says. Acidic foods include tomatoes and tomato-based sauces, citrus fruit, and vinegar-based salad dressing.

Eating Habits to Consider

When it comes to the connection between diet and sleep, it’s not just what you eat that’s important. The timing of meals is also key. “Food intake is a big guiding factor for our body’s natural circadian rhythm,” Wu says. “Food serves as a signal to be awake during the day and then sleep well at night.”

Consider setting a consistent eating schedule, eating meals and snacks at the same time each day. And try to plan for a light dinner, as heavy nighttime meals can hinder sleep.

As you’re winding down for the night, Breus recommends a 3-2-1 plan:

  • 3 hours before bed, stop consuming alcohol.
  • 2 hours before bed, stop eating food.
  • 1 hour before bed, stop drinking all fluids.

And on those occasions when you can’t help indulging in a little midnight snacking, choose wisely. “Eat a small snack with protein or fiber that will be filling and also take longer to digest throughout the night so you don’t wake up with hunger in the middle of the night,” says Wu.

“I usually recommend a 250-calorie snack of 75% carbs and 25% protein,” adds Breus, “like a rice cake with avocado, or a small apple with some nut butter.”

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