8 Dinners to Eat For a Better Night’s Sleep
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, what you put in your body is almost as important as what you keep out. Of course, you don’t want to drink an iced coffee, or eat a sugar-packed dessert before trying to fall asleep. But there are also foods that you should be eating that help not only in inducing sleep, but they keep you asleep longer and you’ll feel more well-rested in the morning.
“The right dinner choices can play a significant role in promoting better sleep quality,” says Mary Sabat, RD.
While eating the proper foods to help induce sleep plays a large role in the quality of sleep you’ll have, another important factor is the timing of the meal. Sabat recommends against eating a late-night dinner and instead finishing the meal a few hours before bedtime.
“Dinner timing is also essential. It’s generally recommended to have dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime to allow for proper digestion,” Sabat says. “Eating too close to bedtime can lead to discomfort and disrupt sleep.”
From protein-filled plates to veggie-packed curries, here are some of the best dinners for better sleep.
1. Salad with leafy greens
Salads are a go-to healthy meal, but they’re not always an exciting one. Rather than making a sad, flavorless salad, pack one with protein like cooked chicken breast, chickpeas, or a cooked egg, along with your favorite veggies and most importantly, plenty of leafy greens. The leafy greens help transform the dinner from a healthy meal, to a dinner
“The dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are high in calcium, which aids in melatonin production, regulating the sleep-wake cycle,” says Trista Best, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. “These greens also contain magnesium, promoting muscle relaxation and stress reduction.”
Salmon is well known for its health benefits. As the fatty fish, it can help lower the risk of heart disease, it helps to benefit weight management, and it can also create better sleep for its consumers.
“Salmon provides omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and promote relaxation, contributing to better sleep quality,” Best says.
Best recommends pairing the salmon with some leafy greens to make your night of sleep even better.
“Combining salmon and dark leafy greens in a salad ensures a well-rounded meal with protein, vitamins, and minerals that support sleep health,” Best says. “Moreover, the lightness and low-calorie content of the salad prevent discomfort and indigestion, minimizing sleep disturbances.”
There’s a reason that all of your uncles are sleeping on the couch after eating every single Thanksgiving — and it’s not because they tired themselves out with all of the holiday excitement. Turkey, the main dish at many Thanksgiving dinners across the country, contains tryptophan.
“Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes the production of serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that regulate sleep-wake cycles,” Sabat says.
As tryptophan helps to create melatonin naturally, it helps you fall asleep more easily. Even if you don’t have your whole extended family coming over for a holiday, pop a turkey in the oven and enjoy falling asleep not long after eating it.
4. Brown rice bowl
Some foods will help put you to sleep easily, while others, like brown rice, will help you to stay asleep longer. Brown rice helps you get a deeper sleep and wake up feelling more rested because its complex carbohydrates help to stabilize the body’s blood sugar levels.
“Complex carbohydrates found in foods like brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes have a more gradual impact on blood sugar levels compared to simple carbohydrates or sugary foods,” says Sam Schleiger, a registered dietitian and the owner of Simply Nourished Functional Nutrition. “Stable blood sugar levels help prevent energy spikes and crashes, reducing the likelihood of waking up during the night.”
Don’t just eat brown rice for dinner, though. Make it into a bowl by adding a lean protein, like chicken, or tofu, as well as some of your favorite veggies.
5. Whole grain pasta with turkey meatballs
There are a few changes that can be made to even the most traditional meals to help give you an improved night of sleep. When it comes to spaghetti and meatballs, swap out your noodles for whole grain pasta, and instead of making meatballs out of ground beef, use ground turkey instead.
“The combination of complex carbohydrates and lean proteins in this dinner helps regulate the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of relaxation and well-being,” says Meaghan Greenwood, a registered dietitian and health coach at Hourglass Waist.
Not only do the carbohydrates in the pasta help you get a more restful night’s sleep, but having turkey meatballs instead of beef will help improve your slumber because the turkey contains tryptophan, which helps you fell asleep by naturally creating melatonin.
6. Chickpea and spinach curry
Most healthy dinner recipes call for some sort of lean protein, like a chicken breast or turkey, and vegetables on the side. That can be nutritious, filling, and delicious, but sometimes it can also be a little boring. Mix it up with a chickpea and spinach curry, which will not only serve as a healthy and filling dinner, but will also set you up for a great night of sleep.
“Chickpeas are a lean, plant-based protein and are a good source of vitamin B6, a nutrient that supports melatonin production,” says registered dietitian Kayla Norton. “Spinach contains magnesium and aids in muscle relaxation. Light coconut milk isn’t high in fat and can aid in fullness without causing discomfort.”
7. Tuna poke bowl
Poke, which is diced raw fish, has been served in Hawaii for hundreds of years, but only recently has the dish become popular across the rest of the country. While poke bowls are completely adaptable, for a better night of sleep, it’s best to include either tuna or salmon, as both of the fish are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and iron, which can help you fall asleep easier.
“Iron is helpful in rest and sleep because iron deficiency often leads to fatigue and sleep deprivation,” says Juliana Tamayo, a registered dietitian and editor at Fitness Clone.
Fill the poke bowl up with brown rice, some veggies and of course, plenty of sauce for a delicious dinner that will help you get a better night’s sleep.
8. Orange chicken, brown rice and broccoli
Rather than ordering dinner out, stay in and make your own take on a Chinese restaurant classic — orange chicken with rice and broccoli. Instead of eating white rice, like you would get while ordering out, substitute brown rice, which is packed with complex carbohydrates and will help you get a better night of sleep.
Not only is brown rice beneficial, but broccoli is a good source of iron, while chicken will contain plenty of lean protein. A 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that participants who ate a diet with higher amounts of lean protein were found to have better sleep.
“The best dinners to have before sleep time, include lean protein, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, fiber, and whole grains,” Tamayo says.