Natural Remedy for Insomnia:

How To Eat Your Way To Good Sleep

Is food a natural remedy for insomnia? You bet! Or it can ruin your sleep... Foods - or beverages - can keep you awake for hours.

This article reveals the best and worst foods for sleep and insomnia.

First, the good news...

Food as a natural remedy for insomnia

Foods that contain tryptophan

Is food a natural remedy for insomnia or is it keeping you awake at night? © Karen Alison

Tryptophan is the top natural remedy for insomnia when you're talking food.  

What is it?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that's a must-have for humans. Without it - or enough of it - you end up sleepless, depressed, craving and binging on carbohydrates and gaining weight. Not a pretty picture.

Fortunately, tryptophan (or L-tryptophan) is in almost all protein foods. It’s a natural remedy for insomnia because it’s the precursor to serotonin and melatonin – the calming brain chemicals that help you sleep. 

Where do you get it?

You may have heard that turkey is supposed to have a lot of tryptophan. That's true - it does - but chicken contains just as much, so you don't have to wait around for Thanksgiving to get your dose.

Sources of tryptophan...

Walnuts and chia seeds - a good source of tryptophan © Karen AlisonWalnuts and chia seeds
  • nuts
  • seeds - pumpkin, chia, flax, etc.
  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • legumes - lentils and other beans
  • spirulina

Isn't it a myth that you can get tryptophan from foods?

Simon Young of McGill University points out that tryptophan in foods is not available to the brain to make serotonin because of competition from other, larger amino acids that block it. 

It seems a little odd that Nature would have put tryptophan into so many foods if we could never access any of it. And there are other ways for your body to make serotonin. Outdoor daylight and exercise are two of them.

So, is eating protein for tryptophan just a myth? Not according to these researchers...

Do this to get the tryptophan from your food...

1. Fix your flora

Research from Ireland and Australia suggests that problems with gut flora - your microbiome - plays a role in tryptophan metabolism and the production of serotonin. Perhaps this is why older people often have insomnia. Disrupted gut flora and leaky gut syndrome are common among the elderly.

So to help access tryptophan, make sure you take your probiotics.

2. Eat a (sweet) potato

Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D, expert in Addictive Nutrition and author of Potatoes Not Prozac, recommends eating protein with your dinner, then eating a plain carbohydrate like a potato or sweet potato about three hours later, before bed. (Yes, you can have butter on it. Or flax oil if you're dairy-sensitive.)

She explains that eating the carb by itself without any protein helps the tryptophan in your system to jump the blood-brain barrier and produce serotonin and melatonin. Who would have thought potatoes and yams could be a great natural remedy for insomnia?

Natural remedy for insomnia if you wake up in the middle of the night

I know we’ve all been told NOT to eat before bed, but if you tend towards hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), you may need a pre-bed snack - like that potato - to get you through the night. Make sure there's some fat in your snack to help you sleep.

Try this especially if you often wake in the middle of the night or wake up in the morning feeling unrested.

Eating sweet potato with butter or oil before bed will help you stay asleep and allow tryptophan to jump the blood-brain barrier to produce serotonin. © Karen AlisonSweet potato roasted in olive oil

A sweet potato with butter or flax oil will tide you over until morning. You could also eat a handful of nuts, a small salad with olive oil dressing, some almond butter on celery sticks or apple slices, or a few bites of leftover dinner vegetables.

During the hours before bed, do not eat high-sugar foods, chocolate, artificially-sweetened items, or other stimulating foods that could keep you awake. (See below for more about excito-toxins.)

If you have trouble getting to sleep, try eating a large meal that's high in fat and protein about three hours before bed. This type of meal is a perfect natural remedy for insomnia because it makes you feel soporific (sleepy) just like Thanksgiving dinner.

Now the bad news...

Worst foods for sleep

Too much salt

Loren Cordain, PhD, says too much salt impairs sleep. All processed foods contain a ton of salt and it’s not the good kind.

Personally, I love salt, so I stick to sea salt or Himalayan rock salt. (And I have no trouble sleeping.) Both are full of naturally healthy minerals. They are completely different from regular table salt which is full of chemicals you can hardly pronounce let alone want in your body.

But no matter how good the salt is, if you eat a bag of salty chips or crisps before bed, you’re likely to find your heart rate has speeded up, which will not help you sleep.

Any foods that cause intolerances
or other bad reactions 

Any food you react badly to can keep you awake at night and not just because of an upset stomach! You don’t have to have a medical allergy to a food to have a bad reaction.

Many foods have a neuro-toxic or excitotoxic effect – meaning they affect how your brain works and make you feel jumpy and hyper. Definitely not a natural remedy for insomnia!

The other problem with these foods is that they are typically the ones that cause problems for your gut flora, which could interfere with your serotonin production and keep you awake.

How do you know which foods to avoid? The best way is to be tested for food intolerances.

In the meantime…

Here are some foods to watch out for:


I know you love your coffee. But if you spend the day drinking coffee, eating chocolate, drinking carbonated beverages, and taking medications that contain caffeine, don’t expect to get a lot of sleep, or have a good sleep when you do fall asleep. For some people, even one coffee is too much. Caffeine interferes with your melatonin levels – not helpful for sleeping.

Sugar is a drug, not a food.


Sugar is a drug, not a food. It causes problems for your blood sugar levels, and has many negative effects. To deal with the sugar you eat, your body has to use up minerals in your blood and bones that would help you relax and sleep. Junk the sweets and eat real food.


Not exactly a food, but alcohol makes your heart rate speed up and can keep you awake or prevent you from going into deep sleep.

Any food containing glutamates

That means most processed foods and some restaurant foods. Glutamates are excitotoxins and will not only cause problems for your sleep but harm your brain and your health.

Glutamates include:

  • MSG
  • Aspartame
  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • Caseinates
  • Malt and yeast extracts
  • Soy proteins and protein concentrates.

Look for these words when you read the ingredients listed on product labels. To learn more about excitotoxins and how they lead to Alzheimers and other degenerative conditions (not to mention insomnia), read this fascinating article.

The top food allergens

These foods may or may not cause a problem for you, but they’re worth looking at if you’ve cut out caffeine, sugar, and processed/junk foods and still suspect you can’t sleep because of something you ate.

They include:

  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Citrus (especially oranges and OJ)
  • Pork
  • Chocolate
  • Soy
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish (may have an excitotoxic effect.)

Now you know how to use your food as a natural remedy for insomnia. But is food enough?

Learn more about how to get a good night's sleep with natural remedies in the articles below...

Related Articles

What causes insomnia? 7 big reasons you didn't suspect.

Try this little-known natural sleep remedy for a deep, relaxing night's sleep.

Of all nutrients, this miracle mineral is the most effective natural sleeping remedy you can take!

Natural sleep remedies to calm the stress and brain chemistry that keeps you awake.

Leaky gut syndrome - Is your gut causing your chronic insomnia and other health problems? Learn what it is and how to fix it.

Find more articles on our Site Map and Articles List


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