Sleep Part III Nutritional Support for Sleep

Sleep part II touched upon the link between the lack of sleep and increased risk of disease. In this third part I wanted to discuss how changes in diet and lifestyle may help you achieve a better night’s sleep.

Some common factors affecting sleep quality

  • Energy drinks/ coffee/ tea/ dark chocolate (aka: caffeine)

  • Alcohol

  • High sugar diet/poor blood glucose control

  • Irregular meal timings/over eating

  • Artificial light exposure after sunset

  • Shift work/jet lag

  • Late night use of – computer, tablets, TV, mobile phones

  • Mental and physical stress – sympathetic dominance (fight or flight)

  • Bedroom temperature

Having a good sleep hygiene routine may make a huge difference to obtaining a decent night’s sleep. What exactly does that mean? Basically, the things you do or don’t do to prepare to get you into sleep mode.

Temperature in the room you sleep should not be too hot or too cold, the darker and quieter the better and of course your bed should be comfortable. Prepare to go to bed around the same time every night and aim to get up at the same time too (difficult for teenagers I know). Avoid computer screens, mobiles, anything emitting blue light (again, difficult for teenagers 😊) at least 1 hour (preferably longer) before you aim to hit the sack. Run a relaxing hot bath, use relaxation techniques, such as meditation, journal writing and deep breathing.

There are also some foods that could help you sleep better. There is evidence demonstrating the intake of nutrients and foods, combined with dietary behaviours, are correlated with components of sleep quality and quantity (1,2).

Tryptophan is an amino acid which our body synthesizes to create serotonin (affecting mood) and melatonin (a hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycles). Tryptophan works in concert with many other nutrients that are necessary for its metabolism, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium and calcium. The nutrients calcium and magnesium help support sleep.

Calcium helps the brain to use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. Calcium rich diets have been shown to help patients with insomnia (3). This may help to explain why dairy products, which contain both tryptophan and calcium, are one of the top sleep-inducing foods.

Magnesium is associated with deeper, less interrupted sleep (4) and is a most important element in our body, being involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions. Because magnesium is used for so many processes, it can easily become depleted, especially by stress, erratic eating patterns, high sugar diets or over-training. In addition, some common medications, such as acid blockers, can reduce absorption of magnesium.

It is important to remember that a balanced ratio of calcium and magnesium is ideal for overall health and if taking supplements, these two minerals are best taken together. You can naturally increase intake of levels for both magnesium and calcium. See the table below for foods containing magnesium/calcium-rich foods.

When it comes to nutrition and sleep, consuming a variety of foods is important. Eating a diverse diet of vegetables and fruit, protein and fat is paramount to obtaining essential nutrients. A full quota of antioxidants, including Vitamin C, will support functions such as sleep. Vitamin B6 also helps convert tryptophan into melatonin. A deficiency in B6 has been linked with lowered serotonin levels and poor sleep (5).

If you find yourself hungry before bed, a light snack is recommended. The best light snacks are those that contain tryptophan and calcium such as a 2 tablespoons of milk rice pudding with sprinkling of cinnamon, couple of cheese and crackers, or 1-2 teaspoons nut butter (natural with little or no added sugar) on wholemeal slice of toast or rice/corn cracker.

Here are some good food sources of Tryptophan:

  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)

  • Poultry (turkey, chicken)

  • Seafood (shrimp, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines, cod)

  • Nuts and seeds (flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, cashews, peanuts, almonds, walnuts)

  • Legumes (kidney beans, lima beans, black beans split peas, chickpeas)

  • Fruits (apples, bananas, peaches, avocado)

  • Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, onions, seaweed)

  • Grains (wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats)

............. and some good food sources of Vitamin B6, Calcium and Magnesium:

Obviously, the nutrients listed above are only a few of many to include into a well-balanced diet. The aim is to approach diet and lifestyle changes together, incorporating stress management strategies and having a good exercise routine which can go a long way to promote health and helping to achieve a good night’s sleep.

Useful resource: Worlds Healthiest Foods


1. Dashti HS, Scheer FA, Jacques PF, Lamon-Fava S, Ordovás JM, Ordovás J. Short sleep duration and dietary intake: epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms, and health implications. Adv Nutr [Internet]. 2015 Nov 1 [cited 2018 Mar 29];6(6):648–59. Available from:

2. Frank S, Gonzalez K, Lee-Ang L, Young MC, Tamez M, Mattei J. Diet and Sleep Physiology: Public Health and Clinical Implications. Front Neurol [Internet]. Frontiers; 2017 Aug 11 [cited 2018 Aug 11];8:393. Available from:

3. Shechter A, Grandner MA, St-Onge M-P. The Role of Sleep in the Control of Food Intake. Am J Lifestyle Med [Internet]. NIH Public Access; 2014 Nov 1 [cited 2018 Aug 11];8(6):371–4. Available from:

4. Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci [Internet]. Wolters Kluwer -- Medknow Publications; 2012 Dec [cited 2018 Aug 13];17(12):1161–9. Available from:

5. Hvas A-M, Juul S, Bech P, Nexø E. Vitamin B6 sub level Is Associated with Symptoms of Depression. Psychother Psychosom [Internet]. 2004 [cited 2018 Aug 28];73(6):340–3. Available from: linked to symptoms of depression and mood disorders which can lead to insomnia. Highest sources of B6 are:

Here are some good food sources of B6, calcium and magnesium:

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