Eat Well Sleep Well – Foods That Improve Sleep Quality

By Danny Webber
Danny Webber is a SENr registered practitioner, an ISAK certified Anthropometrist and a UK Anti-Doping accredited adviser.
| Updated on August 22, 2023

This article discusses the topic of “Eat well sleep well” with a focus on foods that improve sleep quality. When it comes to achieving optimal health and fitness goals, more value is being placed on carefully planned diet & organized exercise than there is on the quality of sleep. Yet, adequate sleep is essential for daily health, which is why we prioritise a third of the day for it! Everyone should aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Regularly sleeping less than 6 hours can negatively affect one’s health and performance.

Diet is believed to play an important role in the regulation of sleep wellness (1). Numerous studies have linked a higher risk of obesity with insufficient sleep (2). In addition, studies have shown that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to increase their consumption of high-calorific foods (3) due to a disruption to our hunger and fullness hormones, ghrelin, and leptin.

Our mealtimes affect our circadian rhythm ( the 24-hour cycle that includes physiological and behavioural rhythms like sleeping) in the same way that light and other environmental cues do.

Side Effects of Sleep Problems

⬇️ Metabolism
⬇️ Brain function and mood
⬇️ Immune function
⬇️ Recovery
⬆️ Risk of injury
⬆️ Appetite
⬆️ Reliance on muscle glycogen for energy during exercise

✅ Avoid caffeine late at night
✅ Eat more protein – Particularly the amino acid tryptophan which converts into melatonin; a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Good examples include turkey breast, pumpkin seeds, porridge oats and cow’s milk.
✅ Eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner = helps to promote tryptophan levels for melatonin production
✅ Make a conscious effort to avoid artificial light – blue light emitted from phones, tablets, TVs etc disturb your sleep by reducing melatonin levels.
✅ Staying hydrated throughout the day, try to avoid drinking too much late at night as this means you may be up during the night.

Tryptophan Rich Foods For Better Sleep

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is associated with good sleep because it is required to create the sleep-inducing chemical messengers serotonin and melatonin (4).

We get tryptophan in most high-protein foods. Fish is a tryptophan-containing food that has been linked with sleep improvements alongside the vitamin D and omega-3 that fish contains.

Tryptophan foods for sleep:

  1. Cows milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Turkey & Chicken
  4. Fish
  5. Tofu

Other foods such as pineapple, kiwi fruit, tomatoes and bananas contain high amounts of tryptophan. Regularly eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day produces a range of health benefits. Some of these including; kiwis, pineapples, tomatoes, and bananas, also contain tryptophan which helps improve sleep.

Glycaemic Index

A foods glycaemic index (GI) is a measurement of how quickly carbohydrate-containing foods raise blood sugar levels; a higher GI corresponds to a faster rise in blood sugar. Consuming high-GI foods has been linked with sleep improvements and falling asleep more quickly (5, 6) this may be related to the increased availability of tryptophan in the body that occurs in response to consuming carbohydrates (7).

Meal Timings

Our mealtimes may be considered a potential risk factor for nocturnal awakenings and poor sleep quality. One particular study showed that a carbohydrate-based high GI meal resulted in a significant shortening of sleep onset latency (SOL) when compared with a low-GI meal and was most effective when consumed 4 h before bedtime (6).

The evidence for meal timings before sleep shows that the recommended time frame is more than 3 h before bedtime to avoid nocturnal awakening (8). However further research is required to confirm the relationship between nutrition and sleep health.

Insufficient Sleep and Effects on Performance

It’s no secret that when it comes to optimal athletic performance, sleep has a positive effect, however, many athletes often struggle to reach 8 hours of sleep each night due to factors such as training schedules, jet lag, anxiety and practise times. Because of these factors, sleep often takes the back seat.

Research suggests that athletic performance deteriorates when sleeping 4-5 h compared with 7-8 h affecting multiple areas of physical performance including endurance, strength, and attention and physical health including injury risk and illness susceptibility (9). Poor sleep quality, particularly during high training loads and competition periods, has been identified as a marker of under-recovery (10)

The risk of injury increased 1.7 times more likely in adolescence who slept less than 8 h a night

Sleep is protective against illness risk (cohen et al 2009) 3 times more likely to develop a cold when sleeping less than 7 h a night.


Aiming for 8 hours of sleep per night is important for our overall health. Working on consuming a balanced and varied diet alongside relaxation techniques prior to bed is also recommended.

Eating quality proteins and carbohydrates for dinner and the timing of meals before bed may also play a role but is likely to vary between different people. Avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine intake is also essential so that sleep quality and duration is not disturbed. All athletes should be aware of the role sleep plays in recovery and performance, and they should work to continuously improve their sleep hygiene habits.

Also Read: Card Loading Foods

Happy sleeping!


  1. St-Onge, M.-P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition, 7(5), 938–949.
  2. Wu, Y., Zhai, L., & Zhang, D. (2014). Sleep duration and obesity among adults: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep Medicine, 15(12), 1456–1462.
  3. Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N., Gerstner, J. R., & Knutson, K. L. (2013). Sleep symptoms are associated with the intake of specific dietary nutrients. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(1), 22–34.
  4. Hajak, G., Huether, G., Blanke, J., Blömer, M., Freyer, C., Poeggeler, B., Reimer, A., Rodenbeck, A., Schulz-Varszegi, M., & Rüther, E. (1991). The Influence of Intravenous L-Tryptophan on Plasma Melatonin and Sleep in Men. Pharmacopsychiatry, 24(01), 17–20.
  5. Yoneyama, S., Sakurai, M., Nakamura, K., Morikawa, Y., Miura, K., Nakashima, M., Yoshita, K., Ishizaki, M., Kido, T., Naruse, Y., Nogawa, K., Suwazono, Y., Sasaki, S., & Nakagawa, H. (2014). Associations between Rice, Noodle, and Bread Intake and Sleep Quality in Japanese Men and Women. PLoS ONE, 9(8), e105198.
  6. Afaghi, A., O’Connor, H., & Chow, C. M. (2007). High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(2), 426–430.
  7. Herrera, C. P., Smith, K., Atkinson, F., Ruell, P., Chow, C. M., O’Connor, H., & Brand-Miller, J. (2011). High-glycaemic index and -glycaemic load meals increase the availability of tryptophan in healthy volunteers. British Journal of Nutrition, 105(11), 1601–1606.
  8. Chung, N., Bin, Y. S., Cistulli, P. A., & Chow, C. M. (2020). Does the Proximity of Meals to Bedtime Influence the Sleep of Young Adults? A Cross-Sectional Survey of University Students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(8).
  9. Simpson, N. S., Gibbs, E. L., & Matheson, G. O. (2016). Optimizing sleep to maximize performance: implications and recommendations for elite athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 27(3), 266–274.
  10. Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Foster, C., Fry, A., Gleeson, M., Nieman, D., Raglin, J., Rietjens, G., Steinacker, J., Urhausen, A., European College of Sport Science, & American College of Sports Medicine (2013). Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 45(1), 186–205.


Does eating well improve your sleep?

The relationship between sleep and diet is bi-directional. Research shows that what we eat has a significant impact on the quality of our sleep. Even our dietary habits can affect how well we sleep. For example, eating close to bedtime has been shown to be detrimental to our sleep. Similarly, a lack of sleep can disrupt our appetite by dysregulating our hunger-signaling hormones, ghrelin, and leptin. This leads to an increase in cravings and the consumption of highly caloric foods, resulting in a vicious cycle of poor sleep and poor dietary choices.

What food helps with sleep?

Foods rich in Tryptophan and melatonin helps improve sleep quality. Tryptophan is an amino acid, used by the body to produce the sleep-inducing chemical messengers serotonin and melatonin.

What foods are high in Tryptophan?

Foods rich in Tryptophan are cows milk, eggs, turkey & chicken, fish, tofu, porridge oats, pumpkin seeds, pineapples, kiwis and cherries are good sources of melatonin.

What are the best foods/ drinks to consume before bedtime?

“Few foods to list that you can eat before your bedtime are:
Cherries/ Tart cherry juice
Citrus fruits, Chamomile tea”

What foods should be avoided before bed?

Avoid the following: Sugary, High-fat foods, Alcohol, and Caffeine (post-afternoon). Some spicy foods are also difficult to digest and may cause you to wake up throughout the night. Avoid late-night meals.

Which supplements can improve sleep?

Melatonin, ZMA, Magnesium, Lavender essential oil

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