Using Food to Promote Restful Sleep


It is believed that over 40 million Americans suffer from chronic and debilitating sleep disorders and another 20 million suffer from occasional insomnia or sleeplessness. Beyond sleep being a necessary function for relaxation and recovery, sleep also plays a huge roll in detox and hormone production as well as cognitive function and of course stress and healthy body composition.

It is recommended to get on average between 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is a pivotal time of detoxification for the body and is when the liver, the body’s main detox organ, is most active. It is also known that our detoxification pathways are 60% more active during sleep then waking hours. Lack of sleep can lead to buildup of toxins in the body leading to brain fog, fatigue, irritability and inflammatory disease. It is also believed that neural connections are strengthened while we sleep promoting optimal brain function and particularly supporting improved memory function.

Most of us know how important sleep is regardless of why so how can we improve or get more sleep?

Before focusing on specific foods to promote sleep it is important to consider if your lack of sleep or poor sleep quality is due to a lack of prioritizing time to get into bed to allow yourself to achieve the sleep that you need! Consider setting an alarm FOR bed rather than just setting an alarm to wake up the following morning. Most of us set an alarm to wake up in the morning but we should be setting an alarm to remind us to wind down in the evening. Set this alarm 30 minutes or an hour in advance to bedtime in order to allow you to finish or delegate tasks. Sleep should be a priority when deciding what tasks could be set aside to complete the following day. Also, establish a rule of avoiding the start of any new project or chore after this alarm has gone off.  Ensuring sufficient time is allotted for sleep is an easy first step to increasing sleep quality and quantity. Your bedtime alarm should be a signal to wrap things up and focus on winding down. After your bedtime reminder alarm goes off you might consider incorporating relaxing techniques like reading a book, meditating or drinking a cup of tea or bone broth to prepare for bed. Eventually you might find the alarm is no longer necessary and instead find you are able to get the most important tasks done before bedtime in order to get adequate sleep.

Imbalances in neurotransmitters or hormones can lead to anxiety, insomnia and poor sleep quality. Hormones such as progesterone are present in both males and females and are helpful at reducing anxiety and promoting restful sleep and increasing duration of sleep. Neurotransmitters such as gama aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin have calming and relaxing effects in the body and can actually work to slow nerve impulses and racing thoughts. Those with low levels might suffer from depression but also loss of sleep due to ruminating, racing or anticipatory thoughts especially at bedtime. As low levels of these neurotransmitters can mimic high levels it is important to establish current levels before considering supplementation and instead focus on supporting natural production with foods. Some of the foods listed below contain building blocks of hormones and neurotransmitters to ensure the body has the natural ability to produce neurotransmitters and hormones needed for restful sleep. Consider digging deeper by running an assessment of your hormone and neurotransmitter levels!




Consider sipping on bone broth in the afternoon or evening to promote restful sleep and reduce stress and cravings. Bone broth is naturally high in amino acids like tryptophan that acts as building blocks in the production of serotonin which promotes a calm and positive mood. Eventually serotonin is converted into melatonin to promote sleep. Bone broth also contains other aminos acids such as tyrosine and glycine that also promote relaxation and sleep and can work to quiet the mind to reduce racing or anticipatory thoughts.


Cherries naturally contain small amounts of melatonin; the hormone needed to signal sleep in the body, but it is likely a combination of factors that make cherries an excellent food to increase sleep. Cherries are high in an antioxidant known are proanthocyanidin that has anti inflammatory actions but more importantly reduces the degradation of tryptophan in the body. By reducing the breakdown of tryptophan in the body; more serotonin and eventually melatonin can be produced to support both mood and sleep. Try having a snack of tart cherries with almonds in the evening or mixing ½ cup of tart cherry juice with sparkling water with dinner or for a night cap to promote melatonin production.


Leafy greens like swiss chard are an excellent source of magnesium which is one of the most commonly deficient minerals in the body. Magnesium can help promote muscle relaxation and even reduce stress and have a positive effect on blood pressure. Ensure your diet includes 3-5 cups of dark leafy greens like swiss chard daily by adding them to eggs or making a green smoothie with swiss chard.


Wild caught fish is an excellent source of clean protein and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are widely known to reduce inflammation and protect from heart disease but studies show they can also boost mood, prevent cognitive decline and even increase sleep quality. Omega 3 Fatty acids can be used to promote a healthy hormone balance (which can have an indirect effect on sleep quality) as well as promote healthy sleep cycles. Omega 3 fatty acids have also been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body and help the body adapt to stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced in the body during times of stress and can cause belly fat gain as well as hyperactivity which can prevent quality sleep.  Ensure you are getting adequate Omega 3 Fatty acids in the body by aiming for a serving of wild caught fish like salmon or mackerel 3 times per week or consider a professional grade fish oil supplement.


Both greek yogurt and Kefir are an excellent  source of probiotic cultures to support immune function and regularity but both are also an excellent source of both tryptophan and magnesium. As mentioned earlier, tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin that aids in relaxation and is eventually converted into melatonin to signal to the body it is time for bed! Magnesium as previously mentioned aids in muscle relaxation! Look for a grass fed greek yogurt or kefir variety that will be devoid of inflammatory compounds like conventional dairy products! Avoid fat free varieties as they are often more processed and will not contain fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D for immune function! Try enjoying an after dinner snack of kefir with a teaspoon or so ceylon cinnamon and an optional teaspoon of raw honey to naturally sweeten. Another option is to swirl a few tablespoons of grass fed greek yogurt into bone broth in the afternoon or dinner to make a cream broth or soup to enjoy!

Lindsay Reno