Yes, there really are foods that can help you sleep better.
If you're prone to tossing and turning, eating foods high in magnesium can help you drift off faster and stay in that restortative state, according to researchers at Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities. Magnesium regulates circadian rhythms, so you get sounder, more satisfying sleep. Dark chocolate is a great source of magnesium, as are a multitude of other foods we've highlighted below.
Check them out if you haven't stopped reading at the mention of dark chocolate.
Tart cherries have high levels of melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle and enhances sleep quality—meaning you can fall asleep faster and have more restorative zzz's, according to research published in the European Journal of Nutrition. What's more, a Louisiana State University study found drinking 8oz of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks helped increase sleep time by nearly 90 minutes among older adults with insomnia.
Bananas are loaded with potassium and magnesium. These compounds don't just refuel your muscles post-workout—magnesium also serves as a natural sleep aid. A sleep expert told us he regularly makes banana tea, like a specialty sleep cocktail, since the peel has about 3x the magnesium as the fruit. Read all about it—and 14 other things you can do during the day to help you fall asleep faster at night—here.
A warm bowl of oatmeal can soothe you right to sleep: Whole grains, like oats, are naturally rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and melatonin (the sleep hormone), according to the Whole Grains Council. You'll feel your mood improve, and brain and body relax. This snack can also establish and maintain steady sleep cycles.
Munch on spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and/or collard greens. Leafy greens pack a healthy dose of sleep-inducing magnesium as well as calcium, which can help boost melatonin and keep your circadian rhythm on track.
Fish, like cod, tuna, and halibut (even crustaceans like shrimp) are high in tryptophan. (Actually, all of this seafood has higher levels than turkey.) What's more, salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish can add sleep-aiding magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Just be careful about what kind you chow down on—some fish aren't sustainably raised or fished, and can be bad for your health. Read our definitive fit guy's guide to fish.
You don't hear pineapples being praised for their health benefits very often (they're fairly high in sugar). But the fruit can raise serum melatonin levels in your blood and boost the antioxidant capacity of that melatonin, according to a study published in the Journal of Pineal Research.
Cereal may be your go-to morning meal, but it can also make the perfect before-bed snack. Carbs make tryptophan more available to the brain, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which is why carb-heavy meals tend to make you sleepy. Toss some milk over your—hopefully whole-grain, not sugary marshmallow puff—cereal. The NSF says the best bedtime snacks combine protein, since that's an essential building block of tryptophan, and carbs. (You can also eat peanut butter on toast or cheese and crackers.)
Walnuts are a naturally rich source of tryptophan, the sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin. Actually, walnuts contain their own source of melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster because they increase concentrations of melatonin in your blood, according to research published in the Nutrition Journal.
Chamomile tea is basically a sedative in a mug (in a good, healthy way). The tea can increase glycine, a chemical that relaxes your nerves and muscles, according to research from the American Chemical Society.
Pumpkin seeds shouldn't just be a seasonal snack. One cup has 168mg of magnesium (420mg is the recommended daily allowance, per the National Health Institute). Don't have pumpkin seeds on hand? Try sunflower seeds or flaxseeds.