Foods to Help You Sleep

Did you know that what you eat can effect the quality of sleep you get?  Most people know drinking coffee past noon can cause you to not be able to sleep at night, but did you also  know that being low on calcium, magnesium, and tryptophan can cause sleep problems?  Today, Lindsay has create some delicious recipes around these three nutrients, and also around cherries, which contain melatonin and have been shown in studies to help improve sleep.  


Cherries, especially tart cherries, contain high levels of  melatonin.  In a small experiment in 2012, volunteers were given either tart cherry juice, or a placebo, and in this double-blind experiment, the cherry juice drinkers reported significant increases in sleep time and quality of sleep.  Their melatonin levels were also significantly higher than the control group given the placebo.  The study concluded that drinking cherry juice might help improve sleep in people with sleeping problems (1).  Interestingly, I just ran across another study in which marathon runners were given cherry juice after marathons and had significant gains in muscle recovery and decreases in inflammation (2).  This doesn’t have anything to do with sleep, but I thought it was pretty neat.


Most people have heard of tryptophan and know it is in turkey.  While the tryptophan in turkey is probably not what causes you to be sleepy right after Thanksgiving dinner (it’s more attributable to eating a large meal your body has to digest), being low on tryptophan can cause sleep problems, depression, and anxiety.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in poultry, red meat, seafood, soy, dairy, spinach, asparagus, beans, seeds, lentils,vegetables, and grains.  Tryptophan is  a building block for both melatonin and serotonin.  So, not having enough trytpophan in your diet can cause you to not be able to effectively produce melatonin and serotonin.  Melatonin is a neurotransmitter involved in sleep, and seratonin is a “feel good” neurotransmitter and not having enough of it is related to depression.  Low levels of serotonin are also linked to poor appetite regulation and weight gain.  

Tryptophan is only metabolized with the help of several other vitamins and minerals, so having an all around healthy and balanced diet is essential. (3)

Calcium and Magnesium

Lindsay and I already talked about magnesium a few weeks ago.  Both magnesium and calcium are minerals that are essential in helping the body and muscles relax.  Being low on these minerals can cause sleep problems, including problems like restless leg syndrome.  Having trouble falling asleep initially can be a sign that you are low on calcium, while having trouble staying asleep can be a sign of low magnesium levels (4).  Muscle cramps may be another reason people have trouble sleeping, and again this is often due to low levels of magnesium.  You can find a list of foods containing magnesium in our post on magnesium.  Most people just think of dairy as having calcium, but there are many more foods that do including large amounts in greens: (spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, arugula, etc.), oranges, fish (sardines, salmon with the bones left in), soy milk ( and tofu and soybeans), oatmeal, seeds (an ounce of sesame seeds has as much calcium as 1 cup of milk, sunflower seeds), almonds, broccoli, and molasses

High Fat Diets, Weight Gain, and Sleep

In addition to what I’ve already discussed above, another reason for having trouble sleeping may be a prolonged high fat diet or weight gain in general.  Obesity and sleep problems have been associated with each other, in part to decreased sensitivity to a hormone called orexin.  In a study of rats, those that were fed a high fat diet for 8 weeks, not only increased their weight, but also slept more, but in shorter chunks of sleep.  This is leading researchers to believe that high fat diets and / or weight gain may be a cause of lesser quality of sleep and daytime sleepiness (5).

Lindsay’s Recipes

This week Lindsay made three recipes to go along with our theme, and they include high levels of tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, and / or cherries.  

Meatballs and spinach salad

Turkey Meatballs

These meatballs contain turkey, which contains high levels of tryptophan, to help work it into your diet.  Two meatballs also contain 7% of your magnesium.  

NutritionLabel - Turkey Meatballs

Spinach Salad with Cherry Tahini Dressing

 Spinach and tahini are full of calcium and magnesium, spinach also has high levels of tryptophan.  Lindsay has made a tasty looking spinach salad with tahini cherry dressing.  Sounds good to me!  

 NutritionLabel - Spinach Salad

Cherry Dulce de Leche Cake

Lindsay put together a tasty looking gluten-free cherry dulce de leche cake for us today.  I don’t bake very often, but I might just get my baking stuff out to make this cake.  It is my birthday in a few days, so maybe I’ll make myself a cake.  Hmm, Lindsay do you think this will work without the eggs, with egg replacer instead??  🙂


NutritionLabel - Cake


Please Note:  The nutrition information in these recipes are estimates only.  Actual nutrition information will vary depending on your ingredients are, how much oil you use, etc.  Also, please verify all allergen information yourself!!  I am not condoning the use of supplements, its always better to get your nutrients in your diet vs. supplements.








  1. YES! I even thought about whether the flax seed replacement would lighten it up and make it less dense.
    Let me know! And make Jeremy bake it for you!

  2. Андрій я у Львові — і те саме… та й буде лише в одному кінотеатрі чомусь… можна було постаратися на к‘‘ÐµÑ²ƒÃÂºÃ‘€Ð°Ã×нсьÐÂÂу прем’єру…

  3. I think it’s a perfect adequate name. The character of the Second Intifada reflects the limitations borne of the occupation. If the Israelis don’t want to reap the whirlwind, they should not have sown the wind.


  1. […] if your children eat well, they will sleep better, and then you will sleep better. Stephanie has a breakdown of some great things to eat to help you get better […]

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