Behold: The Best Nutrition Practices for Getting Better Sleep, According to 16 Registered Dietitians


We all have heard how important it is to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but we donโ€™t always hear about the importance of your sleep quality. Research shows that getting deep sleep is incredibly vital for our health.

Deep sleep is defined by the presence of rapid eye-movement, or REM sleep. This type of sleep has been linked to better cognition, memory, energy levels, and many of the other health benefitsโ€”however, keep in mind that it takes some time to actually fall into REM sleep. (Deep sleep like this happens on a cycle that takes a couple hours of sleeping before it sets in.) โ€œREM sleep is critical for emotional processing and memory,” saysย Mara McStay, MS, RDN. “More REM sleep also means youโ€™ll wake up feeling more refreshed and have higher energy levels.”

Sounds nice, no? In hopes of helping you land the juiciest, most joyfully restful sleep of your life, dietitian experts are sharing exactly what best practices they recommend for better rest (and REM cycles). Trust: There are a handful of helpful dos and donโ€™ts when it comes to nutrition practices for deeper sleepโ€”and they’re all just as simple as counting sheep.

7 RD-approved daily nutrition practices for deeper sleep

Eat Enough Throughout The Day

One of the most underrated ways to get deeper sleep is to eat enough food to fuel your body during the day. Why? Because undernourished bodies tend to experience poor sleep.

โ€œEating enough food is an often overlooked factor in getting high-quality and adequate sleep,” says Caroline Young, MS, RD, RYT, owner of Whole Self Nutrition. “If you are under-eating or skipping whole essential food groups like carbohydrates, you will have a harder time falling asleep or staying asleep. You need to be nourished for the rest-and-digest part of your nervous system to be activated, which is essential for sound sleep.โ€

“If you are under-eating or skipping whole essential food groups like carbohydrates, you will have a harder time falling asleep or staying asleep.โ€
โ€”Caroline Young, RD

That being said, there is somewhat of a โ€œGoldilocks Phenomenonโ€ that can happen when it comes to eating before bed, because eating right before bed can impede your ability to get quality sleep. Striking the balance between eating enough throughout the day but avoiding overeating before bed will help ensure you have better sleep.

โ€œFocus on not going to bed too hungry or full. I recommend having your last meal two to three hours before going to sleep and then having a snack an hour or so before bed, because trying to sleep when you’re too hungry can keep you up. Conversely, trying to sleep when you’re too full could lead to being uncomfortable and may contribute to heartburn. Experiment with what feels right to you,โ€ says Shannon Western, a nutrition counselor at Ease Nutrition Therapy.

Consider Limiting Spicy Foods

โ€œIf youโ€™re looking to get deeper sleep, try avoiding spicy foods and foods high in tyramine at your evening meal,” Dani Lebovitz, MS, RDN, founder of Kid Food Explorers says. “Not only are spicy foods such as capsaicin found in red pepper known to cause indigestion and heartburn that is intensified by lying horizontal, spicy foods may also raise core body temperature impacting sleep quality because body temperature typically drops as the body prepares to sleep.”

Go Nuts Before Bed

Nuts are a good source of zinc, magnesium, calcium, and melatoninโ€”all wonderful nutrients to support restful sleep. Kimberley Wiemann, MS, RDN shares recent research that points to the best nut to consume for deeper sleep: โ€œMelatonin is a hormone that helps promote good sleep habit; a recent study suggests that nuts in general contain melatonin, but pistachios have the highest content. Pistachios also contain magnesium which can help to relax muscles and regulate blood sugar levels,โ€ Wiemann tells us.

Some research shows that nuts may play a role in decreasing insomnia due to their impressive nutrient profile. According to Melissa Mitri, MS, RD of Melissa Mitri Nutrition, โ€œYou can enjoy a handful of nuts every day like walnuts, almonds, or pistachios for better sleep. These nuts contain the sleep hormone melatonin. They are also rich in magnesium and zinc, which are shown to decrease insomnia.โ€

Limit Stimulants and Depressants

Alcohol, which acts as a depressant, impacts our sleep in a negative way by raising our heart rate and causing moments of waking in the middle of the night. โ€œAvoid alcohol in the evening. While many find a cocktail, or glass of wine can relax them, and help them fall asleep, alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, waking you up in the middle of the night,โ€ says Kim Kulp, RDN, owner of Gut Health Connection.

When it comes to alcohol, itโ€™s not just a hangover that we should consider. Deep sleep in particular is affected by drinking alcohol, because alcohol disrupts our ability to fall into REM sleep patterns. This often leads to low energy levels and poor brain functioning the following day.

Deep sleep in particular is affected by drinking alcohol, because alcohol disrupts our ability to fall into REM sleep patterns. This often leads to low energy levels and poor brain functioning the following day.

Then there is caffeine, which acts as a stimulant. When consumed too late in the day, it may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. โ€œAvoid caffeine at least six hours before bedtime, or longer if youโ€™re sensitive to it. Six to eight hours is about how long it takes for the stimulating effect of caffeine to wear off. Allowing your body enough time to metabolize it before you try to fall asleep will increase your chance of being able to fall asleep quickly,โ€ shares Bri Bell, RD of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen.

Pack in the Plants

You donโ€™t have to go full plant-based to receive the benefits of a colorful diet. The increase in fiber, micronutrients, and minerals may be enough to change your sleep quality. โ€œOne study found that eating more fiber, and less saturated fat and sugar, resulted in more time spent in deep slow-wave sleep. More saturated fat and sugar before bedtime may lead to lighter, less restorative, and disrupted sleep. Fiber-rich carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and oatmeal can stimulate the release of serotonin, which has been linked to helping you doze off and sleep well throughout the night,โ€ says Nichole Dandrea-Russert, RD.

“Fiber-rich carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and oatmeal can stimulate the release of serotonin, which has been linked to helping you doze off and sleep well throughout the night,โ€ says Nichole Dandrea-Russert, RD.

One of the key deep-sleep micronutrients in plant-based foods is magnesium. โ€œMagnesium plays an important role in regulating the bodyโ€™s circadian rhythms and helps promote relaxation. Foods that are rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains,โ€ Ashley Kitchens, MPH, RDN, plant-based dietitian and owner of Plant Centered Nutrition says.

Craft a (Booze-Free) Night Cap

Several beverages have been especially linked to deeper sleep. Our experts recommended a variety of nightcaps from warm bone broth, to healing turmeric milk, to a shot of tart cherry juice depending on your lifestyle, goals, and food preferences:

  • Bone Broth: High in glycine, bone broth contains this amino acid linked to overall better quality sleep and falling asleep faster. “I recommend Azuluna’s Chicken Bone Broth because it’s pasture-raised and delicious for sipping,โ€ says Bianca Tamburello, RDN.
  • Warm Milk: โ€œYou’ve probably heard about the connection between the melatonin and tryptophan content of warm milk and sleep. Perhaps just as powerful is the psychological link between warm milk and bedtime as a child. Whatever the reason, drinking warm milk before bed may help you sleep more deeply,โ€ says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN.
  • Turmeric Milk: If you donโ€™t love the taste of warm milk, consider turmeric milk. Moushumi Mukherjee, MS, RDN shares why she loves turmeric milk before bed: โ€œThis is my go-to for a good night’s sleep. Milk has tryptophan which is an amino acid that can help with sleepโ€”and that, along with turmeric, is called golden milk. It has a soothing property, and calms down aches and pains that can disrupt your sleep pattern.”
  • Tart Cherry Juice: โ€œA two-ounce shot of tart cherry juice about 30 minutes before bed will increase melatonin production. This will make it easier to fall asleep and then assist in muscle recovery while you snooze. Enjoy it on its own or in a mocktail. Tart cherry juice is also high in antioxidants and polyphenols,โ€ says Taylor Grasso, MPPD, RD, Owner of Simply Healthy.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

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