How to eat your way to better sleep

There are few things better than a good night’s sleep.

There’s a lot of advice and products out there to get you to nod off, but what if one barrier to sleep was in front of you all the time? That barrier could be food.

So what are the best and worst things to eat for a good night’s sleep? 

Bad sleep foods

Fatty foods

Research has found that a heavy meal with large amounts of carbohydrates and fat within an hour of bedtime can extend the time it takes to fall asleep. They can also disrupt your sleep pattern if nighttime digestion leads to trips to the toilet. 


Not a food, but it requires attention. People are at least coming around to the fact that while alcohol does make you sleepy, it’s not good for your sleep. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a racing heart rate, night sweats, headaches and toilet visits. Avoid alcohol six to eight hours before bedtime and keep it to one or two glasses. 

Anything that gives you indigestion

If you suffer from indigestion, you know your triggers. But it’s so much worse when you go to bed because you are horizontal instead of vertical, making it easier for food and drink to ‘escape’ from your stomach to your oesophagus. 

Common trigger foods for indigestion include spicy foods, especially with lots of onion, and high-fat foods

However, other less well-known triggers can be chocolate, especially dark chocolate, and high acid foods such as oranges or tomatoes. Fast food fried dim sims aren’t great either, but maybe that’s just personal experience.

Sneaky caffeine

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know caffeine is going to interfere with your sleep, but what about hidden caffeine?

You would be surprised by the number of people who don’t know that tea has a lot of caffeine. It varies between blends and preparation of the drink, but yes, tea leaves contain about 3.5 per cent caffeine. Coffee beans contain about 1.1-2.2 per cent caffeine, but there is more caffeine in a serve of coffee because the processing and brewing extracts more from the beans. 

Other hidden sources of caffeine include chocolate, protein bars, energy drinks, some cereals, tea products such as kombucha and matcha, some ice creams and soft drinks, and even certain medications. 

What you should eat before bedtime

Foods high in magnesium

There is a great deal of evidence that keeping your magnesium levels up improves your sleep. You can take a supplement, but that’s a bit boring, why not eat it instead.

Foods that are high in magnesium include avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu sees such as flax, pumpkin and chia seeds, whole grains such as wheat oats and barley and bananas.  

Foods high in melatonin

Melatonin is well known to promote sleep and foods high in melatonin include tart cherries and tart cherry juice, milk – that old wives’ tale about drinking milk before bed turns out to be true – pistachios, rice, goji berries, oats, mushrooms and, of course, bananas.

Mix that all together and it sounds like the worst meal ever. 


The small green fruit, not the bird. According to a study, participants ate two kiwi fruits one hour before bedtime nightly for four weeks. All participants reported falling asleep more quickly and having a better quality of sleep. Total sleep time and sleep efficiency were also increased.

It’s speculated that as kiwi fruit contains high levels of serotonin, they can help regulate your sleep cycle and improve sleep. However, it was a small study of just 24 participants, and even the study said further investigation was warranted.


The bird, not the country. Fans of the comedy series Seinfeld will remember Jerry and his pal George feeding turkey to Jerry’s girlfriend to put her to sleep so they could play with her limited-edition toys. 

It’s not just a fanciful television plotline. Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which increases the production of melatonin and can cause drowsiness. It’s also heavy in protein, which is associated with a better quality of sleep. 

And, eating lots of turkey, because it’s a big bird, could also just make you sleepy as well. 

Do you suffer from sleep issues? What have you tried to cure it? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: We’re not getting enough sleep, and paying the price

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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