Eat to Beat Insomnia

Catch more Zzzs with these 12 calming foods.

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Tossing and Turning?

Eat strategically at night: Certain foods contain compounds that help the body relax and unwind so you will slip into a deep, restorative sleep faster. Here, 12 Ambien-like all-stars

jacob wackerhausen

Turkey Burger

Swap your steak for dinner for lighter fare. Eating big meals before bedtime can lead to acid reflex, says William Orr, PhD, president and CEO of Lynn Health Science Institute in Oklahoma City. A lot of people don’t know it, but they can have heartburn while sleeping and wake up tired. A turkey burger is a great evening meal because it contains tryptophan—the same sleep-inducing chemical that puts you into a food coma on Thanksgiving.

Lauri Patterson

Hummus and Pita Chips

The tryptophan in this Middle Eastern dip helps create the sleep-promoting hormones serotonin and melatonin, says Archelle Georgiou, MD, chief clinical officer of EmpowHER, an online women’s health resource. Scoop it up with pita chips: They contain complex carbs, which make tryptophan more readily available in the brain and increase insulin, another sleep helper.

Scott Karcich


Studies shows that honey contains a form of fructose that releases slowly into the blood stream, preventing you from waking up in the middle of night with hunger pains, says Georgiou. Drizzle it on any bedtime snack.

Liv Friis-Larsen

Chamomile Tea

Skip your nightcap, says Georgiou. Yes, alcohol makes you sleepy, but in the long run itprohibits you from getting into deep sleep and makes you wake up tired. Chamomile tea, on the other hand, has natural sedating effects that are perfect for your before-bed ritual.

Elena Itsenko


Have a glass an hour before bed, suggests Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Milk helps the brain use tryptophan and promotes the production of melatonin, which shortens the amount of time that it takes you to fall asleep. The calcium in milk also acts as a natural muscle relaxant.

Maria Toutoudaki


In addition to tryptophan, bananas also contain potassium and magnesium, two more natural muscle relaxants. Eat one slathered with peanut butter for a punch of belly-filling protein.

Steven von Niederhausern


“Fresh and dried cherries are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin, which helps your body regulate sleep cycles and supports healthy cellular replication and restful sleep,” says California-based integrative doctor Isaac Eliaz, MD. Eat some out of hand or sprinkle them atop your after-dinner dessert.

Jacob Wackerhausen


These heart-healthy nuts contain the magical duo of tryptophan and magnesium, which relax your muscles and make you tired, says Eliaz. Snack on a serving—23 whole nuts—before bed.

Alasdair Thomson


If you’re making a late-night run to Starbucks, opt for oatmeal over coffee. “Oats are a good source of high-quality carbohydrates and have natural sedative properties,” says Eliaz.

john shepherd

Pumpkin Seeds

Don't just roast these at Halloween: Pumpkin seeds are naturally rich in magnesium, which, according to Eliaz, calms your body and mind for a great night of sleep. Having enough magnesium in your systems decreases the chances of muscle tremors, cramps and anxiety. Toss a handful of seeds into soups, smoothies or atop salads.



This nausea-quelling root is another great source of melatonin. Shave fresh ginger into jam or ground it up and add it to your pre-sleep tea.

Elena Schweitzer


Eat a few pretzels before bedtime to promote better sleep. They’re rich in simple carbohydrates, which are easily digested and help increase tryptophan and serotonin levels in the brain, says Eliaz. Dip the pretzels in peanut butter or honey for an even bigger boost.


Next: Natural Sleep Aids and Strategies

Paul Johnson

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