Sleep Better with Food

Getting proper and adequate sleep is pivotal to over health and well-being. Generally, it is recommended that most adults get 7-8 hours each night. Both sleep and nutrition are major factors that affect our health. Sleep and nutrition can also influence each other for better or worse. Continue reading to find out how nutrition can help and hurt one’s sleep pattern. Good quality sleep also impacts our mental health, physical health, and much more!

Nutrients to Improve Sleep


Melatonin is a key hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm. Daylight suppresses the secretion of this hormone so levels are lowest in the evenings and highest at night. Melatonin is a naturally occurring sleep hormone produced in the body that is also found in a variety of foods. 

Foods containing melatonin:

  • Eggs
  • Grapes
  • Lean meats
  • Milk
  • Tart cherries
  • Nuts
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Oats

Melatonin is also a popular sleep vitamin to be taken before bed. The recommended dose of melatonin starts at 0.5 mg and can safely increase up to 5 mg for more regular users. We recommend speaking with your doctor to determine which dosage might be best for you.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have a variety of health benefits including improving health of your brain, heart, organs, and having a positive impact on your sleep. Many studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improving sleep quality and duration. Omega-3 fatty acids do not occur naturally in your body so in order to obtain these fatty acids, you must consume them in the foods you eat.

Foods containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

  • Seafood (salmon, tuna, sardines)
  • Avocados
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another one of the circadian pacemakers that keeps sleep and wake cycles aligned. When you think of Vitamin D, we often think of the sun and its rays. 50-90% of our Vitamin D comes from UV exposure. 40% of American adults are vitamin D deficient. Low levels below 20ng/mL are associated with poor sleep. Vitamin D can be gained from the sun, but also can be consumed through nutrition. As dietitians, we recommend obtaining adequate amounts through food, especially if you live in an area with poor sunshine (your skin will also thank you!)

Foods containing Vitamin D:

  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Fortified milk, cereal, juice
  • Cow’s Milk

During the colder winter months or when you may not be spending as much time outdoors, focus on consuming these foods containing higher amounts of vitamin D. If unable to eat an adequate amount of vitamin D containing foods, consider supplementing. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU for adults. The elderly may be recommended a vitamin D supplement based on overall poor food intake, low exposure to sun, and higher risk of osteoporosis.


RDA of magnesium for adults ranges from 310- 420mg/ day. According to the National Institutes of Health, 48% of Americans get too little magnesium throughout their days. Magnesium is a calming micronutrient known to prevent and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is also involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms and regulating neurotransmitters directly related to sleep. Our body’s do not produce magnesium, so it is essential we consume adequate amounts in our foods. 

Foods containing Magnesium:

  • Nuts & Seeds (pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashews, peanuts, almonds)
  • Spinach
  • Edamame
  • Potatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Bananas 

Magnesium deficiency is rare in humans but consider supplementing with additional magnesium a few hours before bed if you are having difficulty winding down in the evenings. 

Limiting caffeine 

Stimulants, like caffeine, can interrupt your sleeping patterns by making it difficult to sleep or staying asleep. Coffee and energy drinks are commonly consumed each day. Now we’re not saying to completely avoid it, but you may want to limit the quantity you ingest and also the timing! Limit caffeine intake after 2pm each day. It’s also recommended to only consume a maximum of 400 mg, or 4 cups, of coffee each day. Your own sensitivity to caffeine may also differ from those around you.


Antioxidants are powerful agents that promote health in numerous ways. Each class of antioxidant will provide their own unique benefits. Chamomile tea is a popular sleep aid recommended to those struggling to sleep in the evenings. Chamomile tea has flavones which are a class of antioxidants that reduce inflammation. This tea also has apigenin which is a class of flavonoid that binds to certain receptors in the brain and studies have shown this mechanism to promote feelings of sleepiness and reduce insomnia due to their sedative effect. Other foods that include both flavones and apigenin include: celery, parsley, red peppers, and mint. Herbal teas such as chamomile and other flavonoid rich foods can help promote quality sleep and are good evening options when it comes to nutrition. 

Here at Nourished Routes, we value our sleep! Establishing healthy sleeping habits can influence your eating habits and overall health and wellbeing. If you’re interested in creating a plan to help you to sleep better by using food, schedule a free kick off call with us.

Written by Karina Lopez; edited by Allison Tallman RD

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