Sleepless in Arkansas Series:  Part 1, Foods

I have not slept more than three hours a night since I moved here from Colorado.  Sleep became the new mission: learn what helps people sleep. 

According to Vivien Goldschmidt of Save Our Bones, certain nutrients support sleep. Here is her list of foods you can eat to get them.

1.  Calcium:

“Calcium deficiency disrupts the deepest part of the sleep cycle.”  Goldschmidt recommends at least 700 mg (organic only)

  • Leafy greens like kale
  • Sesame seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Yogurt
  • Lentils
  • Almonds

2.  Vitamin C: 

“Studies have linked low levels of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to sleep issues, such as a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night.” She states that you need 1,000 mg of Vitamin C daily.

  • Zucchini
  • Bell peppers
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts

3.  Omega 3 Fatty Acids

During an Oxford University study, participants got nearly one more hour of sleep each night and had fewer waking episodes.  The Save Institute recommends a daily intake of 800 mg.

  • Fatty fish
  • Flaxseed
  • Leafy greens
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Beans

4.  Iron:

“You need iron to transport oxygen throughout the body and to produce energy.” Get 8 mg of iron each day.

  • Greens
  • Beans
  • Dark chocolate

5.  Potassium:

“If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, increasing your potassium intake might help you slumber more peacefully.”  Save Institute recommends 3500 mg. of potassium/day from food sources.

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Beets

6.  Magnesium:

It helps the body to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin; it relieves muscle tension and relaxes the nervous system, making peaceful sleep easier and more restful.  Aim to get 400 mg. of Mg every day. For supplementation, find chelated magnesium for its bio-availability.

  • Leafy greens
  • Seafood
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

7.  Vitamin D: 

You need 2,000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day with sunshine and supplements.

8.  Tryptophan:

Goldschmidt recommends against taking tryptophan supplements, but you can get it from foods.

  • Walnuts
  • Yogurt
  • Hummus

Sleep Association adds eggs, poultry (chicken and turkey), and white rice to this list.  Eggs for tryptophan, and white rice has a high glycemic index that will give you a natural increase in blood sugar levels, which helps tryptophan go to work in your brain faster.  (3)

9.  Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 deficiency causes anemia, nerve damage, depression, and imbalances of neurotransmitters, all of which contribute to sleep disturbances.  SAVE institute recommends 150 mcg/day. (Dr. Greger, M.D. recommends that vegans take 1500 mcg /week.)

  • Organ meats
  • Eggs
  • Fatty fish

10.  Melatonin:

“The sleep-regulating hormone melatonin is synthesized by the pineal gland.”  The Save Institute recommends taking melatonin supplements only if necessary and at the lowest possible dosage of 1 mg. increasing the dosage as needed, up to 3 mg.”

  • Tart cherries
  • Walnuts
  • Ginger
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas

Sleep Association adds fish for the Vitamin B6 that is abundant in salmon, tuna, and halibut because B6 is what makes melatonin, which is normally triggered by being in the dark.”

Add these from Sleep Association’s “Top Ten Foods That Help You Sleep”:

1.  Whole Grains.  “These grains encourage insulin production that results in tryptophan activity in the brain.  They also have magnesium which is said to help you stay asleep.  When magnesium levels are too low, you are more likely to wake up during the night.”

2.  Honey.  Glucose in honey lowers levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you more alert.  Honey will put that alertness in reverse.

3.  Nuts.  This includes walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.  These all boost serotonin levels by having magnesium and tryptophan. (3)

Finally, Dr. Greger, M.D. recommends eating organic Romaine lettuce and two kiwis for better sleep (2).

Save Our Bones would be more helpful if instead of saying how many mcg, mg, or IU one should take, she could have said how many of those are in each of the foods she recommends.  Dr. Greger says “eat two kiwis” which is easier for the reader to do than having to do more research to use the information Goldschmidt offers.


(1)  Vivien Goldschmidt, “Top Ten Nutrients You Need to Sleep Restfully (And to Build Strong Bones)-Save Our Bones”

Top 10 Nutrients You Need To Sleep Restfully (And To Build Strong Bones)

(2)  Dr. Greger: 



(3)  Sleep Association: Top Ten Foods That Help You Sleep

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.