Food Remedy Series – Protein: A Natural Sleep Aid And Midnight Snack

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A cracked hard boiled egg.

A light protein snack before bed helps you sleep better.

Did you know that a deficiency of vitamins and minerals can affect your sleep?

So, the better your diet, the better you sleep.

The USDA discovered that if you don’t get enough copper or iron in your diet, it can take longer for you to fall asleep. If this rings true for you, eat more protein, and add some bananas, lentils, fresh nuts, oats and non-GMO whole grains to your dinner plate, too.

The next time you have trouble falling asleep, it’s OK to sneak into the kitchen for a light, healthy night-time protein snack. 

How does a teaspoon of natural peanut or almond butter sound to you before bed? Maybe a hard-boiled egg or a slice of turkey to help you fall asleep faster.

Dr. David Levitsky, Cornell University, proved that eating before bed helped people sleep better, and it seems to work wonders.

Levitsky determined that eating draws blood into your gastrointestinal tract, and away from the brain. So, if you draw blood away from your brain, you get sleepy.

This doesn’t mean eating a heavy meal, stuffing yourself before bed with fats and carbs –  this will actually keep you awake. I mean snacking on a small helping of highly nutritious protein that digest easily, like fresh nuts, turkey, oatmeal, or a banana.

Protein and Tryptophan

A picture of a grandmother cooking fresh foods.

If you get sleepy after a big family dinner, it’s the tryptophan – not the relatives.

Do you get sleepy after a big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner?

Do you know why?

It’s the tryptophan – not the relatives.

Protein-rich foods, like the Christmas turkey, are high in the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is a really neat amino, too, because it affects the part of your brain that governs sleep.

Your body converts tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin, and then the serotonin converts into the hormone melatonin. 

Melatonin makes you sleepy.

Back in the day, doctors recommended tryptophan as a sleep aid, and it worked well. Then the FDA banned it.

Go figure.

With the onslaught of highly processed and chemically laden foods, like GMOs and diet sweeteners, we have been steered way off-track. Finally, we are returning to the old-school way of thinking.

Food remedies. Yeah.

You can still find tryptophan in plenty of natural foods, and here are some of the best foods that are loaded with it:

  • organic dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • poultry (turkey, chicken)
  • seafood (shrimp, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines, cod)
  • nuts and seeds (flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, cashews, peanuts, almonds, walnuts)
  • legumes (kidney beans, lima beans, black beans split peas, chickpeas)
  • fruits (apples, bananas, peaches, avocado)
  • vegetables (spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, onions, seaweed)
  • grains (non-GMO wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats)
A picture of a Brazilian acerola cherry.

Tart cherries are high in melatonin.

Melatonin is called the sleepy-time hormone. It’s found in lots of healthy foods that you can snack on at night:

  • rolled oats and barley
  • sweet corn
  • rice
  • ginger
  • bananas
  • pomegranate
  • tart cherries
  • asparagus
  • tomatoes
  • olives
  • grapes
  • broccoli
  • cucumber
  • nuts and seeds (walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, flaxseed)
A woman testing her blood sugar using a digital monitor.

Your blood sugar levels affect how you sleep at night.

Blood Glucose Levels

Many of you may wonder about your blood sugar levels when you eat late at night.

More research is coming out confirming that there is a direct link between your stomach and sleep. Studies at Yale School of Medicine show that blood glucose levels are one of the main triggers, if not THE main trigger, for hypocretin, the cells in your brain that keep you awake.

The researchers discovered that when you go to bed at night on an empty stomach, it means that your blood glucose levels are low, and the hypocretin cells become active, which can keep you awake. 

So, eat a nighttime snack, but NOT one high in sugar and carbs – enjoy a snack high in protein.

Big difference.


Magnesium is another sleep aid. Mg is an essential mineral that helps you get a good night’s sleep.


Magnesium affects brain stimulation, but not in the way you think.

Fresh and raw apricot seeds.

Almonds are high in magnesium.

If your magnesium levels are low, your neurotransmitters go unchecked, and they over-stimulate. When over-stimulated, your brain cannot shut down to relax and sleep.

Magnesium is one of those minerals that needs to be in a complex with calcium, boron, phosphorus, and strontium, so if your magnesium levels are low, you’ll want to check the levels of these other nutrients, too.

Consider doing a hair analysis to see what these balances are.

Magnesium is commonly depleted by medications that block its absorption. Aspirin is one of those OTC meds that draws out magnesium. Before you start taking a magnesium supplement, check your other mineral levels – you might be making things worse by creating more imbalances.

Eating foods high in magnesium, and its counter-parts, is an easy solution to restoring magnesium levels because food will also have the other essential nutrients that magnesium partners with.

Some magnesium-rich foods are:

  • dried beans
  • green leafy veggies, like spinach
  • fermented soybeans
  • pumpkin seeds
  • bananas
  • wheat germ
  • fresh nuts, especially almonds
Banana on white background

Bananas are full of sleepy nutrients.


You can take the edge off insomnia by eating plenty of B vitamins. 

Your body uses B vitamins to regulate amino acidsPROTEIN – and that includes tryptophan. And one of my very favorite B vitamins that I include in my 10-Steps To Detoxification Program is B3 Niacin.

Niacin is an important tool for getting good sleep because is helps tryptophan work more efficientlyProteins are high in the B vitamins – lean meats (including fishare high in niacin.

If you are having trouble going to sleep at night, try adding more protein to your diet.  Then, put on your robe and slippers, crack open the fridge, and sneak a healthy, light snack if you can’t sleep.

Nighty nite.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. The FDA may not have evaluated some of the statements.  This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding supplements or making any changes to your dietary program.

Before taking vitamins, consult your doctor; pre-existing medical conditions or medications you are taking can affect how your body responds to multivitamins.

About Janet Hull PhD, CN

Janet Starr Hull, PhD, CN has been working with clients in the holistic health field since 1995. Using natural medicine to cure herself from a diagnosis of Graves’ disease caused by aspartame, Dr. Hull began researching the toxic causes of disease. Today, she is one of the world’s leading experts in environmental toxicology and holistic health and nutrition. Dr. Hull is the first researcher to publicly expose the dangers of aspartame. Connect with Dr. Hull on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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