Author: Jacqueline Newson, BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy

Can these three foods really help you sleep more easily?

Can these three foods really help you sleep more easily?

Do you daydream about dreaming? 

Are you longing for nights filled with hours of deep slumber, punctuated by pleasant dreams that gradually tip you into a slow, comfortable awakening?

If restful restorative sleep is eluding you, maybe it’s time to take a look at what you’re eating and think about including some of nature’s own sleep-inducing remedies.

We always take an evidence-based approach and aim to provide your with actionable knowledge and tips to help you on your journey to optimal health.

In this article we take a look at three foods that scientists have demonstrated may have a positive impact on sleep disturbances.

Table of Contents

  1. Kiwi fruit
  2. Red cabbage
  3. Tart cherries


Time to stock up with these amazing foods, perfectly crafted by nature to provide you with copious amounts of health giving vitamins and minerals as well as other clever compounds that might just ease you into a great night’s sleep.


#1. Kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa)

Kiwi fruit is also known as Chinese gooseberry - it was originally called monkey peach because monkeys enjoyed it in the wild.

One of fifty known species within the genus ‘Actinidia’, the kiwi fruit is native to southwestern China and was first grown commercially in New Zealand.

In traditional Chinese medicine both the root and the fruit of the kiwi fruit were used to treat numerous diseases.

According to Chinese literature it was useful for treating viral infections such as hepatitis and various cancers, as well as aiding digestion and reducing irritability and inflammation. (12)

Kiwi fruits are particularly appealing to the health conscious because they are so nutritionally dense and are reported to have a number of therapeutic benefits.

By consuming them regularly as part of a healthy nutrition plan you might experience the following improvements:

  • Increased healthy HDL cholesterol
  • Decreased triglycerides
  • Decreased blood clotting
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved digestion

Numerous studies have identified that kiwi fruits contain a range of medicinally useful substances, such as serotonin, that may be beneficial in the treatment of insomnia. (13)

Kiwi fruits are exceptionally high in antioxidants as well as vitamins, C, E, K folate, potassium, carotenoids, fibre and phytochemicals.

They also contain other bioactive compounds including plant pigments, polyphenols and organic acids.

The primary organic acid is citric acid, but kiwi fruits also contain malic, quinic, oxalic and gallic acids.

These organic acids provide the fruit with its impressive antioxidant profile.

As well as being studied for its benefits for cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal conditions, research has shown kiwi fruits may also be valuable for the treatment of sleep disorders.

One study reported very promising results after administering kiwi fruits to a group of 25-55-year olds and monitoring their sleep patterns.

Over a period of four weeks the participants were told to eat two kiwi fruits one hour before bedtime.

At the end of the four week period, the researchers reported that the consumption of two kiwi fruits nightly resulted in improved sleep onset, duration and efficiency in individuals with self-reported sleep disturbances. (14)

Another more recent study, published in the Sleep and Biological Rhythms Journal (2017), demonstrated the positive benefits of kiwi fruit consumption amongst students suffering from chronic insomnia. (1)

By comparing nightly ingestion of pears against nightly ingestion of kiwi fruits over a four week period they saw an improvement in sleep quality and daytime functioning in the kiwi fruit group.

The researchers concluded that kiwi fruit may possess sleep improving properties.


#2. Red cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra)

Red cabbage belongs to the Brassicaceae family and is also known as purple cabbage or red kraut.

It belongs to the variety group ‘capitata’, which also includes the common cabbage or kale.

According to ancient Ayurvedic medicine, red cabbage possesses hypnotic and sedative effects. (2)

Modern day aromatherapists also use extracts to relieve insomnia and stress.

The rich red/purple colour of red cabbage is due to the presence of anthocyanin polyphenol pigments. (3) and these polyphenols are thought to bestow red cabbage with its sleep-inducing qualities.

In terms of nutritional content red cabbage is very rich.

It contains twice the content of vitamin C as white cabbage as well as important minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium and potassium.

Additionally, it is a great source of fibre, vitamin K and B vitamins.

The flavonoid content of red cabbage is high and recent studies suggest these are extremely valuable for human health. (4)

The pharmacological effects identified include reducing oxidative stress, decreasing blood glucose, reducing blood cholesterol and, according to some traditional medicine textbooks, red cabbage has sedative-hypnotic effects. (5)(6)

These sedative effects have been observed in animal studies, where researchers found that the sleep prolonging effects of red cabbage extracts were comparable to that of commonly used pharmaceutical hypnotics but with none of the neuron toxicity. (7)


#3. Tart Cherries (Prunus Cerasus)

Tart cherries, or more specifically Montmorency cherries, are not the same as the usual variety you might pick up at your local supermarket.

For a start, they are quite a bit smaller and, as their name suggests, not sweet but very sour.

Although you might not be able to buy these fruits fresh easily, they can be bought frozen or dried.

The tart cherry gets its rich dark wine colour from proanthocyanidins, the red tannins also found in red wine and purple grapes.

Tart cherries are thought to be especially useful for improving sleep quality because they are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone with a well-established role in promoting sleep.

The proanthocyanidins are also thought to help the body process tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin, another sleep regulating hormone. (8)

Research suggests there may be validity in these claims.

One small study found that participants given tart cherry juice in the morning and evening experienced significant increases in their total sleep time and sleep quality. (9)

Compared to the placebo group, those who drank the cherry juice slept approximately 39 minutes longer.

Melatonin levels were also significantly elevated in the tart cherry group.

According to another study involving mixed aged participants, the consumption of a cherry-based product improved sleep by reducing the number of awakenings, shortening the time it took to fall asleep and generally establishing high quality sleep. (10)

However, better results were seen in the older participants.

Further positive results were seen in a recent study involving elderly patients with insomnia.

After two weeks of either a placebo or cherry juice, the participants in the cherry juice phase found their sleep had increased by 84 minutes.

The researchers concluded that the cherry juice increased tryptophan availability and reduced inflammation, which may have been partially responsible for the improvement in insomnia. (11)


Take away message

Even if you’re not an insomniac, from time to time the day to day stresses of life may have a significant impact on your sleep quality.

As part of a healthy balanced eating plan, adding in regular portions of these amazing foods, might just help to keep you sleeping soundly.

Have you tried other foods that have had a noticeable impact on your sleep quality?

Let us know which ones work for you.

Gaining your insight helps us to help others.

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