The Best Foods and Herbs for Better Sleep

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Discover the Best Foods to Get Better Sleep

Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, yet millions of people suffer from lack of sleep. We feel more energetic, happier, and can function better after a good sleep. Yet so many of us don’t get enough sleep: some people wake up frequently during the night or wake too early in the morning and can’t fall back to sleep, and then feel tired throughout the day. Depression or anxiety can also cause sleep disorders. When sleep problems become chronic, we call it insomnia.

Sleep Problems can directly or indirectly affect physiological systems, such as brain and nervous system, cardiovascular system, metabolic functions and immune system.

Fortunately, one simple way you can try to improve your sleep is by consuming certain types of foods and herbs.

Sleep Deprivation is Common Among Americans

Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in 1999-2004 reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Most of the people with these problems go undiagnosed and untreated.

Sleep problems can directly or indirectly affect physiological systems, such as brain and nervous system, cardiovascular system, metabolic functions and immune system.

I’ve already written about the wide range of health issues that lack of sleep can cause to the body in my article about 23 dangers of sleep deprivation.

In this article I am going to cover foods and herbs that contain components that will help you get better sleep, and I will share with you a recipe of banana and cinnamon drink you can consume about two hours before going to bed.

The Best Foods for Better Sleep

1. Foods Containing Tryptophan Can Help you Fall Asleep

Tryptophan in an amino acid which is required for the production of serotonin. Raising the level of tryptophan in the brain will increase production of serotonin which has general sedative effects.

Foods that contain tryptophan and increase serotonin levels are poultry, seafood, dairy products, nuts and seeds, eggs, bananas and legumes.

Milk for a better sleep

Milk contains tryptophan and you have probably heard many times that drinking a cup of warm milk at night will help you to get asleep.

However some research, including a 2003 study published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”, demonstrates that while milk does contain tryptophan, the tryptophan may be hindered from crossing into the brain by the protein in the milk. For tryptophan in the milk to be effective in causing sleep, it must be paired with foods that are low in protein and high in carbohydrates.

Another Point: For some people, particularly those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance, a glass of warm milk may cause digestive upsets.

I’d like to share with you a simple recipe that includes banana as its main ingredient. This is easy to make and digests very easy in the body.

Banana Cinnamon Drink for a better sleep

The minerals and amino acids in a banana help relax your body. Bananas contain the minerals potassium and magnesium which serve as  muscle relaxants, which in turn helps your body feel ready to fall asleep.

Bananas also contain tryptophan and is also a source of serotonin which has general sedative effects.

A small study published in the Journal of Pineal Research showed that blood levels of melatonin (which is the hormone that helps sleep) rose significantly about two hours after eating a banana.

1 medium banana, cut into pieces
1 cup of water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. honey (optional)


Blend the ingredients until thick and smooth. Serves 1

Note – you can replace the water with milk but then you must add the honey which is low in protein and high in carbohydrates. This will help the tryptophan in milk cross into the brain as per the study mentioned above.

2. Foods Containing Zinc and Magnesium

These minerals are important for healthy sleep.


A study published on January 2011 on the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society concluded that the administration of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc appears to improve the quality of sleep and the quality of life in long-term care facility residents with primary insomnia. You can use magnesium or zinc supplement for sleep support, or you can get it through nutrition.

Good sources of magnesium are: dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), fish, legumes, whole grains, avocado, bananas, plain yogurt, dried fruits and dark chocolate.

Consuming adequate amount of magnesium is also one of the 70 habits featured in my e-book 70 Powerful Habits For A Great Health which will guide you how to take positive steps to improve your wellness and overall health.

Good sources of zinc are: seafood, beef and lamb, beans, nuts and seeds, wheat germ and dairy products. Combine these foods and eat them for dinner to get into sleepy mood.

3. Foods Containing Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made by a small gland in the brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Very small amounts of it are found in foods such as banana, corn, rice, tomatoes, almonds, seeds and oats. You can also buy it as a supplement.

Tart cherries are one of the most concentrated sources of melatonin, so you can eat cherries in all forms: fresh, dried, frozen or as a juice.

The Best Herbs for Insomnia

The easiest way to consume these herbs for better sleep is by preparing a herbal tea and drinking it an hour or so before going to sleep.

1. Chamomile

People have used chamomile tea for sleep for thousands of years. This herb contains certain flavonoids that can reduce anxiety and have calming effect, which helps to promote better sleep.

You can use chamomile in an infusion (tea) or bath, or as a tincture, which is a concentrated extract mixed with alcohol. The FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with usually no side effects. You can read more about this herb in my article about chamomile tea benefits and how to use it (research based).


2. Valerian

Valerian root is used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment, and is a common ingredient in products promoted as mild sedatives and sleep aids. This herb improves the quality of sleep and helps fall asleep faster. Dried roots are prepared as teas or tinctures, and dried plant materials and extracts are put into capsules or tablets.

One medical study concluded that valerian could improve insomnia.

The recommendation is not to use valerian with other sleep aids. Start with the lowest dose, then increase over several days’ time. Valerian is considered safe to take for four to six weeks.

3. Kava Kava

This plant has been shown to help relieve anxiety, stress and related nervous disorders and promote a feeling of relaxation. The roots are ground into a powder and added to water, resulting in a thick brew. There is a concern that kava kava may cause liver damage, so before taking this herb, ask your doctor if it is safe for you.

One scientific study found that both kava and valerian improved sleep and the ill-effects of stress, and the combination of the two was even more effective for the control of insomnia.

4. Passionflower

Passionflower is a traditional sedative and relieves anxiety and is commonly used to treat insomnia. The chemicals in passionflower have calming, sleep inducing, and muscle spasm relieving effects. Some preliminary research suggests that drinking a passionflower tea an hour before bedtime might help improve the quality of sleep.

5. Oats

Oats contain melatonin which is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, and complex carbohydrates that can help more tryptophan get into the brain to help you sleep better. It also contains high levels of vitamin B6 and other minerals that help support proper nerve function.

While you might think of oatmeal as a breakfast food only, it is also a smart choice as a bedtime snack. Oat is a true superfood that is also featured in my e-book about superfoods which is part of the Natural Health Revolution Program. This program will help you to achieve your health, nutrition or weight loss goals.


6. Skullcap

Skullcap is commonly used for relaxation, and is a mild sedative that affects the central nervous system. It’s been traditionally used for treating a wide range of nervous conditions – from trouble falling asleep to relieve anxiety and stress and to improve quality and duration of sleep. Today skullcap generally appears as part of a mixture in calming tea or tincture blends.

7. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has calming effect and is taken for anxiety, sleep problems and restlessness. It was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety and promote sleep. Several studies show that lemon balm combined with other calming herbs (such as valerian, hops, and chamomile) helps reduce anxiety and promote better sleep.

8. St. John Wort

This herb appears to improve symptoms of mild depression, anxiety and sleep disorders associated with them. This herbal treatment for depression will also treat insomnia by promoting a restful sleep as it balances sleep cycles.

It is available in tablets, capsules, teas or tincture. It may take a few weeks until a full effect is noticed. This herb has been known to interfere with certain prescription medications, so it would be best to check with your doctor if this herbal remedy is safe to use with other drugs you take.

9. Hops

Hops are used in brewing beer and have been known for centuries to make you sleep deeper and promote relaxation. This is because they release a chemical which is known to have a sedative and relaxing effect. Put your hops into muslin sachets, add some lavender for an extra soothing and relaxing effect, and place your sachet beside your pillow. The hops will make you fall asleep and the lavender will relax and sedate you.

10. Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce has a mild sedative and calming effect on the body and is used to reduce anxiety and to promote sleep. Wild lettuce extract comes from the leaves, sap and seeds of Lactuca virosa, a wild leafy plant. Wild lettuce can be combined with valerian to enhance its sedative properties, and is available as a tea or as tablets. The use of wild lettuce is not advisable if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

11. California Poppy

California poppy contains chemicals that induce relaxation and sleepiness. It reduces anxiety and improves the quality of your sleep as well. You can combine it with valerian for a stronger sedative. You can use it as a tea or tincture.

12. Lavender

Lavender is commonly used as a treatment for insomnia, and is most often used in the form of essential oil in aromatherapy. Breathing in the vapors can help with relaxation, which then in turn could treat insomnia. In addition to using the lavender as an essential oil, many use lavender internally by taking it as a tea or tincture.

If you are interested to learn more about essential oils you can find useful information in my e-book Magical Aromatherapy. This book will help you to discover the power of essential oils and the most effective ways to use them. If you are interested in herbs and herbal remedies, you can find more useful information in my e-book the Herbal Remedies Guide. This guide will teach you how to treat common ailments using herbs.

Related articles:
1. Simple Trick to Fall Asleep in One Minute
2. Improve Sleep Disorders With This Natural Substance
3. A Simple Recipe for a Great Sleep (2 Natural Ingredients)

Medical Sources

(1) 2013 Aug;55(1):58-64. doi: 10.1111/jpi.12025. Epub 2012 Nov 9. Serum melatonin levels and antioxidant capacities after consumption of pineapple, orange, or banana by healthy male volunteers.

(2) 2011 Jan;59(1):82-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03232.x. The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

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12 Responses to The Best Foods and Herbs for Better Sleep

  1. sam says:

    raw chocolate also has tryptophan in it

  2. Bill says:

    #2….magnesium cannot be properly assimilated into the body without Selenium. js

  3. Ben mcewan says:

    Raw chocolate though any chocolate has caffeine which will keep you awake avoid after 6pm
    People with candida/gluten intolerance will be incredibly sensitive to caffeine even the residues in decaf products
    Bananas have tryptophan and vitamin B6 you need the vitamin B6 as cofactor to tryptophan I researched it
    I recommended turkey for the tryptophan and banana but avoid heavy protein sources late at night
    Avoid looking at screens after 10pm most nights and keep your bedroom as dark as possible when sleeping, dark rooms increase melatonin production making you fall asleep faster. Do your best to avoid sleeping tablets in most cases. They aren’t generally very effective a little alcohol is probably better though it can wake you in the early hours through needing to get up to pee.

  4. Y.N. says:

    All I know is my mom just started taking a scoop of colostrum in her milk every night and she says she not only sleep through the night she doesn’t seem to even move all night… #totallytryingthis


    Nutmeg and milk is very good for people having insomnia small quantity of nutmeg powder mixed with a tea cup of hot milk before bed time .

  6. Michell niles says:

    I have a hard time sleeping after about 5 hrs of sleep I am awake and can’t sleep back so thanks for the tip

  7. Gety says:

    My elder sister she doesn’t sleep at night, she will engage herself talking alone till morning .pls what can be d cause. are doing a great job,God Bless u.

    • Jenny Hills says:

      There can be many causes of insomnia (see for example in Mayo Clinic), so I can’t know what the reason is. Your sister needs to talk to her doctor who knows her medical history and can provide a proper diagnosis or advice based on her specific case.

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