Foods that promote good sleep

Posted on 27 June 2017

Food and sleep are two of the most basic human needs. However, in our fast-paced modern life, good nutrition and good-quality sleep often take a back seat to frenetic work and social schedules. A Mediclinic dietician explains how sleep and what we eat and drink are not necessarily separate concepts.

Some foods and drinks can aid sleep while others – such as refined carbohydrates and alcohol – may seem to help a person fall asleep but will in fact impair quality of sleep, says Magriet Barnard, a dietician who practices at Mediclinic Bloemfontein.

‘Some people drink alcohol to induce sleep. However, alcohol actually disrupts sleep during the course of the night as it inhibits the deeper stages of sleep. The person will wake up tired despite sleeping for seven or eight hours,’ Magriet explains.

Here are her do’s and don’ts of eating and drinking to aid sleep:


Eat more:

  • foods that contain tryptophan, such as walnuts, shrimp, lobster and dairy. This sleep-enhancing amino acid aids in the production of serotonin and melatonin, two brain chemicals that induce sleep.
  • magnesium-rich foods such as bananas and almonds, because magnesium deficiency may interfere with sleep duration.
  • foods rich in vitamin B6, such as oily fish and pistachio nuts, because this vitamin is also necessary for producing melatonin.
  • lean protein and complex carbohydrates such as wild rice and vegetables for supper, but in moderation, as these are easy to digest and will maintain your blood sugar levels overnight.


  • Eat large meals before bedtime – increased gastric volume leads to physical discomfort, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Indulge in simple carbohydrates such as white bread, sugar or syrup before going to bed. ‘Simple carbs may cause an initial spike in glucose levels, but afterwards your blood glucose will dip. This will initially help you to fall asleep but it will then disrupt your brain chemistry as well as your blood sugar levels and may impair the quality of your sleep,’ Magriet explains.
  • Drink more than 500ml of caffeine per day, as this is associated with insomnia.

Margriet adds that if you like to have a little snack before bedtime, a small handful of mixed nuts (for people without allergies), a cup of (warmed) milk or a banana are all great options but she advises being cautious with your fluid intake as a full bladder could wake you up.


Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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