Food-Sleep Connection

Posted on July 1, 2024 by Sadia Salman

Sleep deprivation has become a silent epidemic among adults and teenagers. Balancing school, work, social life, and digital distractions often results in insufficient sleep. While good sleep hygiene practices like maintaining a regular sleep schedule and reducing screen time are well-known, many overlook the powerful role that diet plays in ensuring restful sleep. Let’s explore how certain foods can help you get those much-needed Z’s.

Let’s first understand what sleep deprivation is. Sleep deprivation occurs when you consistently don’t get enough sleep. For teenagers and young adults, the recommended amount is between 7 to 9 hours per night. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to various issues, including poor cognitive function, weakened immune response, and increased susceptibility to anxiety and depression.

The Food-Sleep Connection

1 – Incorporate Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin and melatonin, hormones that regulate sleep. Foods high in tryptophan include:

  • Turkey: A classic example, often cited for its sleep-inducing qualities.
  • Chicken: Another excellent source of this amino acid.
  • Eggs: Particularly the whites are rich in tryptophan.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds are great choices.

2 – Opt for Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates can promote the availability of tryptophan in the brain. Consider adding:

  • Whole Grains: Brown rice, oats, and whole grain bread.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources.

3 – Include Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating neurotransmitters involved in sleep. Foods rich in magnesium include:

  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
  • Fish: Salmon, mackerel.

4 – Add Foods High in Melatonin

Melatonin is the hormone directly responsible for sleep-wake cycles. Boost your melatonin levels with:

  • Tart Cherries: One of the few natural sources of melatonin.
  • Grapes: Particularly the skin, which contains melatonin.
  • Tomatoes: Another good source of melatonin.

5 – Stay Hydrated, But Smartly

Proper hydration is essential, but try to limit fluid intake right before bed to avoid waking up for bathroom trips. Herbal teas like chamomile or valerian root can be particularly soothing and promote sleep.

Here’s a simple meal plan you can follow incorporating these sleep-friendly foods:


  • Whole grain toast with avocado and a poached egg
  • A handful of almonds


  • Spinach and chickpea salad with quinoa and a lemon-tahini dressing
  • A side of cherry juice


  • Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds


  • Baked salmon with a side of brown rice and steamed kale
  • A small bowl of grapes for dessert

Before Bed:

  • A cup of chamomile tea

Combine these dietary changes with good sleep hygiene practices, and you’re on your way to a more restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep. Remember, good sleep is not a luxury—it’s a necessity for a healthy, productive life.

Sadia Salman:

Sadia Salman is a certified nutritionist from Tufts University, USA and the CEO of Diet by Design. Over the past 12 years, she has touched the lives of over 50,000 individuals across 40+ countries, offering support in weight management, PCOS, hormonal imbalance, diabetes, immunity, thyroid and various health challenges.

In 2023, Sadia’s remarkable achievements, including the President’s Award and Chef of the Year Award, reflect her unwavering dedication to fostering a healthier and happier world through her impactful contributions to health, wellness, nutrition awareness and skill development on a global scale.