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Health and Wellbeing

How Nutrition Can Help You Sleep

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

12th April, 2023

flatlay of breakfast foods with coffee, waffles, porridge and honey

Sleep is a complex process that can be influenced by so many things including mental health and stress, light exposure, and underlying physical issues. Additionally, we all have a unique relationship with sleep and, as such, need to hone our awareness so that we become better at knowing what choices we need to make in order to get the restorative sleep that we need. There are some clever nutritional choices that you can make that could help you to sleep better. These include:

Sleepy foods

Tryptophan rich foods

Evidence suggests that eating food that is high in tryptophan can help you to get to sleep more efficiently. Food that are high in tryptophan include lettuce, tuna, turkey.

Tart cherries and tart cherry juice.

Some studies suggest that they might be high in melatonin and therefore, sleep-promoting.


Bedtime milk drink

No, it’s not an old wives’ tale – having a milky drink before bedtime really can help you fall asleep because milk contains melatonin. Some types of milk are even more melatonin rich – for example, the milk from cows that are milked at night!


Fatty fish

A study has shown people who ate salmon three times a week had improved sleep and better daytime functioning maybe because salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D which are needed to produce serotonin and mood regulation.

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Almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews are considered to be good for sleep although the exact amounts you would eat for the soporific benefits can vary. These nuts apparently contain melatonin as well as magnesium.



There is some evidence that suggests that eating rice can improve your sleep particularly if consumed with tryptophan-rich protein such as turkey. Rice is a high-glycemic index food that can spike your blood sugar levels which isn’t so good for sleep, however having it with protein lowers the GI reducing this effect. In general, high glycemic foods such as refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks and snacks are worse for your sleep.

Timing your meals

Giving yourself enough time to digest your last meal before sleeping is vital. This means ideally allowing at least 3 hours between eating your evening meal and then going to bed. The digestive process requires a great deal of energy and widening this window gives the body and brain more time to digest before you get into bed, thus freeing up our physiological resources to focus on the intricate process of sleep. In other words, your sleep will be deeper and more restorative. Eating too late, particularly spicy and fatty foods, can also increase acid reflux which will keep you awake.

Minimise caffeine and stimulants including alcohol

The half-life of caffeine is around 5 hours. This means that if you consume 40mg of caffeine at 4pm you will still have 20mg in your blood stream at 8pm. This might not be enough to make you fully energised but it can impair the depth and quality of your sleep. It does this by blocking the sleep-promoting receptors in your brain called adenosine receptors. This is great if you want to be alert and energised but very unhelpful if you’re trying to get a good night's sleep.

We’re all have different tolerances to alcohol but the bottom line is that any amount of alcohol can affect the quality of your sleep. Alcohol acts initially as a sedative and relaxant but then it disrupts the sleep cycle and can actually have a stimulant effect in the early hours of the morning – typically around 2 to 4am – if you have over-indulged. You might wake up sweating and agitated and then find it hard to get back to sleep.

Don’t skip breakfast!

While emerging research is increasingly showing the benefits of intermittent and other types of fasting for general health and wellbeing, it is important that you don’t skip breakfast if you have difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, non-restorative sleep or wake up with anxiety. Breaking your fast within an hour of rising helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels and settle your nervous system so that when you go to bed at night, your body is primed to be in ‘rest and digest’ mode enabling the production of melatonin.

flatlay of breakfast foods with coffee, waffles, porridge and honey

While nutrition definitely plays its part in giving you good, restorative sleep, it is important that you have good lifestyle habits and that your bedroom feels like a sanctuary that you want to retire to at the end of the day. Most importantly, ensure that you are giving yourself the best possible chance of enjoying your sleep by choosing one of the Oak Tree adjustable beds.

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