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Surprising Foods That Help You Sleep

March 13, 2017
Woman sleeping in her bed

By Elizabeth Millard

The connection between what you eat and how you sleep usually comes into play when you’re wide awake, regretting that super spicy burrito or sugar-packed 7-layer cake.

But certain foods actually can help you get a better night’s rest. We asked registered dietician-nutritionists Joy Dubost and Tiffany DeWitt to share some of their favorite slumber-friendly foods (and ones to avoid), so you know just what to eat for dinner and nighttime snacks. Get ready to sleep soundly and wake up tomorrow feeling bright and well rested. 


Peanut butter contains niacin, a nutrient that’s been linked to relaxation and lowered anxiety. The crackers contain complex carbs that help regulate blood sugar levels. This tasty combo increases levels of serotonin, a key hormone that’s been linked to healthy sleep, says Dubost. Plus, you get vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, which are also sleep aids. Have a few slathered crackers some with some milk for a mid-evening snack. 


Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxers, and bananas are packed with both, Dubost notes. Bananas are also high in carbs, which can help make you feel drowsy. Have them mashed or sliced with a little almond butter as a night-time snack.


DeWitt says foods that are rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan help the body relax, speeding up the falling-asleep process. Opt for a dinner packed with tryptophan by enjoying foods like fish, legumes, spinach, squash, kale, mushrooms and cabbage. (This squash and lentil recipe below would be a perfect choice.) Of course, turkey is always said to contain this amino acid, thus making you sleepy after Thanksgiving, but in fact, it has less L-tryptophan than other poultry including chicken. 


Calcium provides a calming effect that can help lull you into sleep, DeWitt says. More specifically, casein—the protein found in dairy products—digests slowly over six or seven hours, making it an ideal muscle builder that also helps you stay asleep. So, eating a bowlful of cottage cheese or yogurt with some berries and nuts for dessert is another great way to feel full, satiated and relaxed. 


Anything containing a high amount of sugar could keep you wired even when your body is tired, Dubost says, especially if caffeine is also involved. That means you should avoid a scoop (or a tub) of coffee ice cream, but also be on the lookout for other sugar-and-caffeine combos like some protein bars and hot chocolate. Dubost also steers her clients away from processed snacks made with white flour, such as seemingly healthy pretzels. The simple carbs in these baked goods can cause a blood sugar spike that keeps you from snoozing properly.


Kabocha Squash with Black Lentils and Honey




05 min


25 min


1 whole kabocha squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup black lentils, cooked per package instructions



Crumbled feta cheese


3 tablespoons raw honey

¼ cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil


Place the whole squash in a large pasta pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and cut into wedges, thin or thick. Leave the green skin on or remove it.

Drizzle a sheet pan with olive oil and lay the cut wedges on it. Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 20 minutes, turning once half way through. Season the cooked squash wedges with salt.

Whisk together the honey lemon dressing. Toss the squash with the dressing and cooked lentils. If desired, garnish with arugula and crumbled feta cheese.

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