4 Expert Tips for Better Sleep, According to a Nutritionist

September 8, 2020


Tamar Samuels

Are you tired of constantly saying hello to 3:00 am? About 30% of US adults have insomnia, and 10% have chronic, long-term insomnia. Getting a good night’s sleep directly impacts just about every aspect of your health and can truly make or break your success when it comes to reaching your health goals. Before you call in a prescription for a sleeping pill, try these science-backed nutrition tips to treat insomnia naturally. 

Nutrition Tips for Insomnia

01 – Be Mindful of Alcohol

That weekday nightcap might be doing more harm than good when it comes to your sleep. Yes, alcohol can help you fall asleep, but at what cost?

Alcohol interferes with your quality of sleep by blocking REM sleep. REM sleep is the deepest state of sleep where we dream, form long-term memories, and boost cognitive processes like concentration and learning. Without REM sleep, feeling well-rested is hard, even if you are clocking in enough sleep.

How much alcohol is too much when it comes to sleep?

Everyone has a different tolerance, but women may be especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol on sleep because they metabolize alcohol faster than men (1). Even one drink can affect your sleep quality, so experiment to see what amount you can tolerate. For some people, eliminating alcohol on weekdays does wonders for sleep, mood, and productivity.

02 – Keep Caffeine in Check

It’s also important to look honestly at your caffeine intake if you have trouble sleeping. The effect of caffeine varies depending on the person, but generally speaking, our bodies metabolize caffeine in about 5 – 6 hours. As a result, drinking caffeinated beverages later in the day can make getting to bed early a lot harder.

Caffeine can also disrupt your circadian rhythm (more on this below) by stimulating the release of cortisol, a hormone that keeps you awake and alert. As a diuretic, caffeine can indirectly affect sleep by triggering frequent bathroom trips in the middle of the night.  

How much caffeine is much is too much when it comes to sleep?

As with alcohol, women are even more sensitive to the effects of caffeine on sleep, especially during certain times of their menstrual cycle (between ovulation and menstruation) and if they are taking birth control (2).

If you have trouble falling asleep at night, we recommend avoiding caffeine after your morning cup. Be sure to cut off all caffeine by 2:00 pm if you know caffeine affects your sleep. Swapping out coffee for green tea and sometimes quitting caffeine altogether is necessary depending on your sensitivity.

03 – Get More Magnesium 

One of our favorite health tips for better sleep? Make a point to add more magnesium to your diet. Magnesium plays a key role in supporting over 300 different enzymes in the body. As a result, magnesium has widespread benefits for our health, including supporting energy production, blood pressure management, cholesterol and blood sugar regulation, strengthening bone health, maintaining fluid balance as an electrolyte, and supporting the stress response.

Insomnia and difficulty sleeping through the night are among the most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Several studies have found magnesium effective in treating insomnia and improving sleep (3, 4, 5). 

Magnesium helps to support sleep in several different ways. It promotes deep sleep by increasing the availability of GABA, a neurotransmitter that stimulates relaxation and restorative sleep (6). GABA also helps sleep by calming anxiety and balancing stress hormones (7). Studies have found that supplementing with magnesium may also help decrease mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression (8,9). Magnesium has also been found to improve insomnia related to restless leg syndrome (10).

Many people, especially women, are likely to have suboptimal magnesium levels. Increase magnesium-rich foods daily and supplement if you have sleep issues and/or anxiety.

The best food sources of magnesium are:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Seeds and nuts – almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds
  • Legumes – black beans, peanuts, edamame, kidney beans
  • Unprocessed whole grains
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate 

We recommend working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist if you want to learn more about magnesium supplements.

04 – Eat Carbs at Night

Studies have shown that eating carbohydrates a few hours before bed can make it easier to fall asleep (11, 12, 13).

Carbohydrates at night support healthy sleep by balancing the hormones in your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our body’s biological clock that regulates the timing of our sleep/wake cycle, among other functions.

The two key hormones involved in our circadian rhythm are cortisol and melatonin. These hormones are released or suppressed in response to light and darkness. Cortisol is released in response to light and helps us feel awake and alert during the daytime. Melatonin is released in response to darkness and helps us feel tired and sleep through the night. A normal circadian rhythm is essential for everyone to get a good night’s sleep.

Carbohydrates help to regulate the circadian rhythm by supporting the production of melatonin. Melatonin is actually synthesized from serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is also involved in regulating your mood. Tryptophan is an amino acid that serves as the building block for serotonin production. Carbohydrates increase the amount of tryptophan available in the brain to support the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. Carbohydrates also suppress the production of cortisol, letting melatonin do its job and knock you out for the night.


Have more questions about nutrition and sleep? At Culina Health, we provide personalized nutrition care with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that’s covered by insurance. Schedule a free intro call to get started!

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or application is intended for reference and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately qualified and licensed medical services provider.

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