This nutritionist says you should eat these foods if you want higher-quality sleep

Dietician Alison Stowell is a prolific member of the The American Dietetic Association.

The holder of a B.S. in nutritional science frequently embarks on complementary informative tours on behalf of the Hannaford Brothers Corporation in addition to running her own private practice out of Danbury, Connecticut.

Ladders reached out to Stowell to better understand the role our diet plays in a healthy night’s sleep.  The impact is both significant and multilayered. Stowell, who also writes for nutrition site Guiding Stars, expounds by saying, “Lack of sleep leaves us tired, which can lead to the double impact of making us more likely to make poor eating choices and likely to turn to food to stay awake. There are some nutrients that play a key role in encouraging a healthy night of sleep.”

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Bananas are rich in potassium, a mineral previously reported to positively affect sleep efficiency and reduce instances of waking up after sleep onset.

Potassium induces muscle relaxation by helping create an electrical conduction system across the cell membrane. In companion with many things, these cell membranes promote muscle contractions.  Potassium’s impact on sleep isn’t just correlative, however, as Live Strong correctly reports,  “If potassium channels are defective or absent, so are slow waves – oscillations across the brain that indicate deep sleep.”

There are many great sources for potassium besides bananas, of course, some of which include spinach, oranges, almonds, and potatoes.

Seafood and chocolate for you

Stowell writes, “Magnesium has a positive impact on neurotransmitters that promote and play a role in supporting sound sleep, while a deficiency in magnesium may increase the potential for sleep disorders and interrupted rest.”

Fish, particularly fatty fish, comes with a plethora of nutrition benefits but more relevantly they provide a rich source for magnesium. Just half a fillet of salmon contain 53 mg of the mineral- 13% of the recommended daily value. Shrimp, clams, cockles, and crab are all tasty seafood alternatives that contain very high amounts of magnesium.

You might be thrilled to learn that chocolate is also a great way to score magnesium, particularly raw cacao powder, (there’s about 40 mg in each tablespoon.)

Try mixing it into vegan treats like brownies, smoothies or even frozen bananas o get a double dose of sleep aiding nutrients.

Tryptophan and melatonin

“The unique science behind the amino acid tryptophan  (found in protein) makes it a valuable part of diet for better sleep,” says Stowell.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid important to nitrogen balance in healthy adults.  It’s found most principally in foods like turkey, chicken, cheese yogurt and eggs. Our bodies processTryptophan and turns it into a vitamin B called niacin. Niacin is seminal in the development of serotonin and the regulation of melatonin, which many already know to be the hormone that controls sleep-wake cycles.

As far better sleep is concerned, Stowell believes acquiring melatonin from foods is more effective than relying on supplements. Foods like tomatoes, cherries, grapes, oats, and walnuts help us better manage our sleep cycles and achieve more quality rest.

Creative ways to implement sleep-promoting nutrients

In addition to detailing important nutrients and minerals integral for maintained sleep wellness, Stowell also passed along some fun recipes to help us insomniacs better incorporate them into our daily lives. Some of our favorites are listed below.

Couscous & Cherry Salad recipe

  • 1 2/3 c. water
  • 1 1/3 c. whole wheat pearl couscous
  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 2/3 c. unsweetened dried cherries
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 3 oz. baby arugula, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 3 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 oz. gouda, shredded


  1. Bring the water to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Add the dried cherries and microwave for 2 minutes on high. Let stand for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Drain and reserve the liquid. Whisk to make sure it’s fully emulsified. Stir liquid into the couscous.
  4. Stir in the steeped cherries, celery, arugula, walnuts and sliced shallots. Top with cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mediterranean fish chowder with potatoes and kale recipe

  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lrg. onion, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 med. carrot, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 anchovy fillets, rinsed, drained and chopped
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 (28 oz.) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1 qt. water
  • 1 lb. fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and washed
  • 1 1/2 lbs. firm, white-fleshed fish, like halibut, tilapia or cod, cut in 2- or 3-inch pieces


  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add a generous pinch of salt and stir in the garlic, anchovies, and parsley. Cook, stirring, until the mixture is very fragrant, another minute or two, and add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook, stirring often until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit and the mixture smells aromatic … about 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Add the water and potatoes. Salt to taste and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes.
  4. Add the fish and kale. The soup should not be boiling vigorously. Simmer 5 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets), or just until the fish flakes easily when poked and kale is nicely wilted. Serve hot.

Southwestern  potato skins recipe

  • 6 potatoes, baked and cool
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ⅛ tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • 6 slices turkey bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1 med. tomato, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. sliced green onions
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. When cool to the touch, cut each potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼” of flesh attached to the skin.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, chili powder, and hot sauce. Brush the olive oil mixture on the insides of the potato skins. Cut each half of the potato skin in half again crosswise. Place the potatoes onto the baking sheet.
  4. Mix together the turkey bacon, tomato, and onions. Fill each potato skin with this mixture and sprinkle with cheese.
  5. Bake until the cheese is melted and the potato skins are heated through (10-15 minutes). Serve immediately.

Stowell concludes, “There are other things you can do to increase your chances of having a restful night sleep like enjoying some calming tea or shifting the timing of meals. You can also make one of these recipes that include the nutrients needed for better sleep.”

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