Most of us have the occasional sleepless night, and we may blame stress or our spouse or any number of factors, but what if we’re wrong? What if what we eat and/or drink are to blame for our insomnia? More importantly, what if we can eat or drink our way to better and deeper sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation, if insomnia is an issue, there’s more at work than simply drinking too much coffee.

Melatonin is a substance produced in our bodies that helps us to sleep. Our bodies make more of it at night, and slow production of it in the morning when we need to wake. Sometimes our bodies do not produce enough Melatonin, however. One can always take supplements, but getting Melatonin from foods is better. Let’s look at foods that are great sources of the four basic minerals that help us sleep, and promote production of Melatonin: Magnesium. Calcium, Tryptophan, and Vitamin B6. Some foods are direct sources of Melatonin. You may want to add several of these to your grocery list, and add them to your pre-bed routine:

Nuts and seeds

Did you know that pistachio nuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds are excellent sources of Vitamin B6, which helps convert Tryptophan into Melatonin? Some nuts and seeds go a step further and are direct sources of Melatonin: walnuts, peanuts, mustard seeds, flaxseed, sunflower seeds.

Dairy

Dairy foods like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream are great sources of several important minerals. Dairy foods contain Tryptophan, which increases levels of Serotonin, which is also important for getting enough sleep. Many people swear by warm milk as a sleep aid. It’s a good source of Calcium and Tryptophan, whether warm or cold.

Meat

Turkey, shrimp, chicken, cod, sardines – all are great sources of Tryptophan and Magnesium. Sardines are also a good source of Calcium. Beef is also a good source of Vitamin B6, which helps convert Tryptophan into Melatonin. However, too much beef at bedtime will not help you sleep. Beef is high in protein and when the body is busy converting protein to energy, sleep will be elusive.

Fruits and vegetables

Many fruits and veggies, like avocados, prunes, bananas, pineapple, and spinach promote sleep. However, vegetables high in water like lettuce and cucumbers will cause frequent urination and should be avoided right before bedtime.

Some salad components are excellent direct sources of Melatonin and may help you to fall asleep, such as: tomatoes, pomegranates, olives, grapes, broccoli, tart cherries, asparagus, corn. According to a number of sources, including the National Institutes of Health, kiwi is verifiably a great way to get more sleep. They recommend eating two kiwi fruits one hour before bedtime. The report of a sleep study involving kiwi concluded: “Kiwi fruit consumption may improve sleep onset, duration, and efficiency in adults with self-reported sleep disturbances.”

Foods and drinks to avoid

Everyone knows it’s unwise to drink coffee right before bed, but it’s also not a good idea to drink a glass of wine. Alcohol is one of the worse things you can drink if you are trying to get a good night’s sleep. It disrupts the sleep cycle. Herbal teas, particularly Chamomile or Valerian tea, are good to drink at bedtime. Regular tea has caffeine and should be avoided. As noted, milk is a great source of Calcium and Tryptophan, and liquid yogurt also adds magnesium.

Should you commit this list to memory, and eat large amounts of these foods right before bed? No. Eating a heavy meal right before bed will be counter-productive to sleep. A light snack would be better. If you take all these suggestions to heart and you still have trouble sleeping, you might have a sleep disorder. In that case, consult a doctor, who may recommend an evaluation at a sleep clinic.