How to get a good night's sleep

Do you struggle to get a good night's rest? Kerry Torrens explains how a few diet changes can make all the difference...

A sleeping couple in a bed

Insomnia affects about a third of the UK population and, for a male client of mine in his late 40s, it was leaving him drained and unable to manage his business, adding to his already high stress levels.

After having a bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast, my client drank coffee throughout the day, had a sandwich for lunch and ate his main meal in the evening. He often caught up with paperwork or emails before going to bed.

My advice to this client was...

  • Swap sugary cereal for a wholegrain alternative topped with milk and a sliced banana.
  • Choose protein foods that are rich in an amino acid called tryptophan. This helps boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Chicken and turkey, milk and dairy, nuts and seeds are all good choices.
  • Combine these with rice, pasta or potatoes to help the body get the most benefits from tryptophan. Try a chicken and noodle stir-fry or similar. Aim to eat your main meal earlier in the evening – the act of eating pushes up the body’s core temperature and this can disrupt sleep so eat your evening meal at least four hours before retiring for the day. Last thing, a glass of warm milk with a cracker or oatcake can be useful.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake gradually. Try decaffeinated coffee or caffeine-free drinks like red bush tea. Have your last caffeine-containing drink no later than midday – this is because the time taken for the body to eliminate the caffeine you consume is roughly five-six hours.
  • Build relaxation and exercise into the day to help manage stress.
  • Avoid using a computer late in the evening as the light from the screen can have a stimulatory effect.
  • Take a warm bath an hour or two before bedtime – studies suggest this may improve sleep quality.

The result?

After a month, my client had made several diet and lifestyle changes, and his sleep quality had improved. However, his stress levels remained high, so I suggested that he visit his GP for this.

Recipe suggestions...

Malted walnut seed loaf
Dippy eggs with Marmite soldiers
Fruit & nut granola
Zingy chicken stir-fry
Spicy turkey & pepper bake
All-in-one chicken, squash & new potato casserole
Thai turkey stir-fry

Do you have trouble sleeping or have you beaten insomnia by making changes to your diet? Let us know below.

This article was updated on 23 September 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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30th Jun, 2017
Some good advice given myself, about insomnia that is now almost beaten: 1. Do NOT think about work, while trying to sleep. 2. Do NOT think about tomorrow, while trying to sleep. Think about foods, recipes, etc., step by step, that works quite well on myself. Instead of work, replace any thoughts of work with, 7 times over: 'unwork' that means the opposite of work. Instead of thinking about tomorrow, replace any thought of that, with 7 times over, 'I am in the present'. Eating to combat insomnia: protein snacks. Or a couple of ritz or snax biscuits with peanut butter on them. Or a handful of raisins. These have all helped myself to drift to sleep easier than before.
30th Jun, 2017
Centuries ago, people that worked so hard never got insomnia, they were tired-out and insomnia was then almost unknown. So maybe people will decide to have some daily exercise?
Count Iblis
28th Jun, 2017
Insomnia does not exist in indigenous societies: "Though the San, Tsimané, and Hadza often average less than seven hours of sleep, they seem to be getting enough sleep. They seldom nap, and they don’t have trouble dozing off. The San and Tsimané languages have no word for insomnia, and when researchers tried to explain it to them, “they still don’t seem to quite understand,” Siegel says." And no heart disease either: "A high carbohydrate diet of rice, plantain, manioc and corn, with a small amount of wild game and fish – plus around six hours’ exercise every day – has given the Tsimané people of the Bolivian Amazon the healthiest hearts in the world." "“Most of the Tsimané are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis. This has never been seen in any prior research. While difficult to achieve in the industrialized world, we can adopt some aspects of their lifestyle to potentially forestall a condition we thought would eventually effect almost all of us.”"
11th Oct, 2016
I have found it very hard to sleep right for over 3 years and just can not sleep my days start at 3pm wake up go back to bed at 11.30 but do not get to sleep under till 6am can any one help or have a good ides
Rony Sarker
29th Jun, 2017
Run 5-10 kilometers every evening (increase if required ) do some equivalent amount of hard work (Cardiac), i. e. , you have to get tired/exhausted. Drink enough water everyday. No one can stop you from falling asleep. Basically you've to burn the amount of calories you intake. Sleep will come automatically.
5th Mar, 2014
Apart from cutting out coffee after 11 a.m., I found that cutting out protein at night helps beat insomnia. So, supper tends to be vegetable soup, fruit or salad, plus milk. Alcohol is also a great way to get to sleep -but has me waking up again 3 or 4 hours later. So limiting alcohol intake also helps.
3rd Jul, 2013
I have struggled with insomnia for years. It takes me a while to get to sleep and I wake up lots. I saw a nutritionist who thought it could actually be hunger stopping me sleeping through. I think she was right. At her suggestion I now have a glass of milk/yoghurt/small banana/couple of ryvita just before bed and I also cut out the afternoon caffeine. Helped for me.
29th Sep, 2013
My husband is diabetic and he has problem sleeping. Kindly suggest what he can do to overcome his lack of sleep.
Kerry Torrens's picture
Kerry Torrens
4th Jun, 2014
Hi there, thanks for your question. A night time snack such as a glass of milk and an oat cake may help stabilise blood sugar levels through the night. Ensure your husband gets some form of exercise during the day and avoid TV and computer screens in the evening as the light they emit is thought to disrupt our natural circadian rhythm.
3rd Dec, 2016
I have been struggling to sleep for a while now and I noticed that I was eating the wrong food that was not healthy. My tip is do exercises regularly, eat wholegrain cereals with water and 1 of 5 fruits per day, drink warm milk at night, eat half banana and hour before bed, avoid spicy food and turn off lights and TV an hour before bed, cherries chick peas grapefruit yogurt are the best to get you a nice sleep. This worked for me.
11th Jul, 2013
My tip is not about diet, which is obviously important, but reducing wi-fi made a huge difference to my quality of sleep. You may not have realised it affects you as it can creep up gradually, but it is easy to check. Simply switch off all wi-fi and unnecessary electrical appliances before going to bed - computer connections, cordless phones, mobiles, playstations, whole house TV and radio systems - also baby monitors and pendant alarms for the elderly if not needed. Try it for a week to see if you get to sleep sooner, the quality of any sleep improves, or you merely feel more refreshed on waking. Sleep disturbance is common, but not the only affect - it can cause a whole host of other symptoms such as headaches. If it improves your sleep, consider refusing a Smart meter when they come in.