You know there are some foods to avoid before bed (Diet Dr. Pepper, we’re looking at you), but besides the obvious, how much does diet actually impact your sleep? According to a study conducted at Northwestern University, what you eat could actually be causing your sleep disorder.

Here’s how they figured it out: The researchers used genetically modified mice to monitor the relationship between inflammation and circadian rhythms. The genetic modification allowed the researchers to activate or deactivate inflammation in the mice. As the scientists monitored the mice’s circadian rhythms, they found that when they deactivated inflammation, the mice were unable to activate rest or activity. The result was awake, but exhausted mice. This experiment led the scientists to some similar insights about human bodies.

Specifically, they learned that a body’s internal clock and inflammation are influenced by the same thing: a genetic factor called NF-kappa beta (NFKB). In general, when triggered, NFKB causes the pain and tissue damage associated with inflammation. But through this study, scientists learned that triggering NFKB can also damage your body’s ability to recognize that it’s time for rest.

So how do you keep from triggering NFKB and messing with your circadian rhythms? Well, you need to avoid inflammation—something you can do by taking care to reduce your intake of inflammatory foods and increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods.

Inflammatory Foods


Trans fats (margarine, shortening)

Red and processed meats

Refined carbohydrates (white bread)

Anti-inflammatory Foods

Blueberries and strawberries

Fatty fish



Olive Oil

Green leafy vegetables


Improving Your Diet for Sleep

While inflammatory foods might be what’s stopping you from catching zzz’s, there are still other things at play. If you want to prioritize a diet that will help you rest at your best, make sure you’re eating a regular amount of the following foods, preferably in the evening.


Melatonin is an important hormone in regulating sleep cycles. When your body functions correctly, melatonin levels rise in the evening and drop in the morning hours, signaling you to wake up. Foods rich in melatonin, like cherries, are great to consume about an hour before sleep to naturally increase melatonin levels.

Leafy Greens 

Foods high in potassium help relax your muscles. These are especially important for people who have restless legs that keep them awake. Try including spinach, bananas, avocados, or sweet potatoes in your diet.


You’ve probably heard that warm milk can help you fall asleep, but the truth is that most dairy products will do the trick. Foods high in calcium help the brain to produce melatonin, helping you fall and stay asleep. Calcium also helps regulate muscle movement to decrease jerks or starts that disrupt your sleep.


Turkey isn’t the only food high in tryptophan (the amino acid that increases that super-powerful sleep trigger: melatonin). Nuts, oats, and canned tuna all have plenty of tryptophan and can do what it takes to help signal your body for rest.

For more sleep solutions, explore Dr. Oz’s answers to snoring, acid reflux, back pain, and more.