Health Related

5 Snacks to Help You Sleep At Night (And Foods to Avoid)

There’s probably nothing else worse than failing to sleep when you really want to. Insomnia, perhaps?

Enough sleep is vital to our health. Sleep deprivation often leads to a manifold of health concerns like dementia, sundowning, Alzheimer’s and even cardiac related woes.

Do you have a senior loved one having trouble getting to sleep? Or are you personally suffering from the difficulty to snooze at night?

Of course, as we age, our sleep patterns may change. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “44% of older persons experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more.”

For our elderly relatives, it’s more natural to have a little less sleep, or to wake up more during the night.

But, if restless nights are causing problems during the day and you can’t attribute it to medication or illness, then you might want to try a little food therapy.

A bedtime snack containing the right nutrients can sleepless folks like you (maybe since you are here reading this) calm the body, relax the mind and promote better sleep.

Here are a few of sleep-inducing foods you ought to try:

1. Nutrient-Rich Fruits

Fruits that are rich in potassium and magnesium help promote sleep by relaxing the muscles and calming the nervous system.

Bananas are an excellent choice. Besides being rich in both potassium and magnesium, they also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps induce sleep.

Tryptophan is converted by the brain into serotonin and melatonin, says the U.S. News and World Report: “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleepiness.”

Cherries are also a rich source of melatonin, and fruits like apples, apricots and peaches contain plenty of magnesium. So, if your loved one is having trouble sleeping – and tends to crave sweets – reach for the fruit bowl.

2. Complex Carbs

Complex carbs include potatoes and whole grain snacks like oatmeal, popcorn, or jasmine rice. These are good source of complex carbohydrates, which can help increase levels of tryptophan.

A small bowl of oatmeal or cereal, whole-grain crackers with a little lean protein, and low-calorie, high-fiber popcorn are good choices.

Oatmeal is especially good because it also has plenty of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium (see references for more information about complex carbs).

3. Lean Protein

Lean proteins are food that are high in tryptophan. This increases serotonin levels and promotes good sleep. Lean proteins include turkey meat, fish, peanut butter on a banana, an egg on whole-grain toast, a little low-fat cheese on crackers, or a rice cake with lean turkey or fish. These food can be satisfying. And will surely promote a good night’s sleep.

4. Heart-Healthy Fats

Good fats are another good choice for some nighttime eating, too. Avocados, peanut butter, and other nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios are great source of healthy fats.

“Unsaturated fats will not only boost your heart health but also improve your serotonin levels,” says the Cleveland Clinic.

Almonds, for instance, are full of protein, as well as magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation.

Caution: Avoid unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats, which reduce serotonin levels and make sleep more elusive.

5. Warm Drinks

There’s a reason why mom always recommended that glass of warm milk at bedtime – milk, like other dairy products, contains tryptophan. “Plus, it’s a good source of calcium, which helps regulate the production of melatonin,” says U.S. News.

Try some warm milk before bedtime. You can choose to add some honey to it for a more delicious treat before bedtime.

Decaffeinated herbal teas can also help, particularly relaxing herbs like chamomile or peppermint. Many people drink teas with added valerian root, an herb that has been used for centuries as a natural sedative.

Caution: Avoid caffeinated beverages, though; even small amounts of caffeine can prevent sleep.

What Not to Eat Before Bed

A quick note on foods to avoid: some edibles (and drinkables) may seem like tempting nighttime treats, but may actually have a negative effect on sleep and rest. Here are a few tips for what NOT to eat before bed:

  • Anything that tends to upset the digestive system, like greasy or spicy foods
  • Eating too much before bed, as it may lead to indigestion and weight gain
  • Eating large amounts of protein, which can be difficult to digest
  • Excessive sweets: “Diets high in refined sugar can cause indigestion and trigger insulin surges that interfere with the hormones that affect sleep,” notes Dr. Oz
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages (or eat too much chocolate!) for at least three to eight hours before bed
  • Don’t use alcohol to try to fall asleep as it may initially make you sleepy, but it negatively affects the quality of sleep
  • Limit liquids before going to bed, particularly important for older adults: “It takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids, so limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night,” suggests nutritionist Joy Bauer on the Today Show


Center, N. and Disorders, S. (2017). How Bedtime Snacks Can Help You Sleep. [online] WebMD. Available at: [Accessed 12 Apr. 2017].

Valley Sleep Center: Sleep Studies, Sleep Doctors, Phoenix, Arizona. (2012). Can’t Sleep? Try a Midnight Snack. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Apr. 2017]. (2017). Aging and Sleep. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017].

Nurses, C., Mark Hyman, M., Howard Smith, M., Kristin Kirkpatrick, L. and Christopher Travers, M. (2014). 5 Foods That Help You Sleep – Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. [online] Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. Available at: [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017].

Bauer, J. (2017). Improve your snooze with these foods. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017]. (2017). Foods That Help You Snooze. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017].