Sleep Doctor independently selects the products we test. We may earn a commission if you buy through the links on our site.

Recipes for Sleep:
Eating Right for a Restful Night


Written by Dr. Michael Breus

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

It’s not news that eating a balanced diet is essential to your health. Yet research continues to reveal more and more ways our diet affects our daily lives — including sleep.  

The relationship between sleep and metabolism may be complex, but healthy meals and snacks are an understood necessity to both your daytime energy and your nightly sleep. By making simple dietary changes and choosing healthy foods throughout the day you’re likely to notice a difference in your overall quality of life.

Break Your Fast the Right Way

There’s a reason why they say “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Your first meal in the morning replenishes your glucose and provides you with essential nutrients so you can start your day alert. 

When it’s time for breakfast, try to consume high-protein foods that fuel your busy morning. A breakfast loaded with carbohydrates will only prolong that early morning grogginess. 

Don’t have time to sit down? Skip the coffee and make breakfast to go. A smoothie or yogurt bowl are both nutritious alternatives to caffeine, especially in the morning when your cortisol levels are already elevated.

Lunch Time!

The ‘afternoon slump’ is a common problem for most people. This is largely due to our natural circadian rhythms, but may be more pronounced if you have a desk job or sedentary lifestyle. 

In the afternoon, small snacks and well-balanced meals that are high in protein and fiber will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you satisfied until dinnertime. Substitute caffeine and sugary drinks with mineral water or herbal teas after 2 p.m. to prevent any unwanted, long-lasting effects interfering with your sleep. 

Think beyond your tastes and preferences when choosing your lunch, and try to diversify your plate with nutrient rich foods. Mixed greens, whole grains, and lean proteins can make for a powerful midday boost of energy.

New studies suggest that plant-based proteins may be better for your sleep than meat-based ones. One great alternative to try is soy, the most complete vegetable protein. It is rich in vitamin E, fiber, calcium, magnesium, lecithin, riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid, and iron. Soy comes in many forms, but tofu is one diverse form that pairs well with most recipes.

Your Evening Meal

Your final meal of the day is a critical factor to a good night’s rest. Large meals, high-protein meals, fried foods, and spicy foods are common culprits of insomnia due to acid reflux and stomach discomfort. 

Instead, eating a meal high in carbohydrates can help stimulate the production of sleep-inducing hormones, like serotonin and melatonin. Substituting whole grains for white flour products can also help keep you feeling full for longer. Similarly, a small amount of dairy, which contains both tryptophan and calcium, can help your brain prepare for sleep. 

Season your foods with spices and herbs that are not likely to interfere with your sleep, including nutmeg, turmeric, parsley, dill, sage, and basil. However, keep in mind that no amount of sleep-friendly seasonings can counter the effects of too much fat and protein that make for a difficult digestion

Does turkey make you sleepy? Yes and no. While the tryptophan found in turkey may help you relax, its combination with complex carbohydrates is what speeds up the production of melatonin in the brain and helps you fall asleep. In fact, chicken and beef contain about the same amount of tryptophan as turkey.

Something Sweet

If you experience hunger pangs at night, allow yourself a snack close to bedtime. This snack should be low-fat and preferably something from the carbohydrate family, like a piece of whole grain toast with a thin spread of natural peanut butter. Another good choice is a banana, which contains sleep-inducing melatonin, calming serotonin, and muscle-relaxing magnesium. 

Adding carbohydrates to dairy or protein calms us down with a serotonin buzz. However make sure you don’t consume too much protein close to bedtime. Avoid foods that might induce heartburn or keep you awake for longer than desired. 

Bedtime snacks should be consumed at least an hour before your actual bedtime and be under 200 calories — no more. Don’t wait until right before you hop in bed to have your snack.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize!

  • POSITION: Combination Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper

Ask the Sleep Doctor

Have questions about sleep? Submit them here! We use your questions to help us decide topics for articles, videos, and newsletters. We try to answer as many questions as possible. You can also send us an emailPlease note, we cannot provide specific medical advice, and always recommend you contact your doctor for any medical matters.