How tryptophan helps you sleep better

This nutrient can lull you into a deeper, more restful sleep.

Did your nanna ever tell you to have a glass of milk before bed? Well, there is truth to the story – milk can in fact be the best nightcap.

Dairy foods are filled with a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. Milk is arguably the most widely tolerated and accessible components within the dairy products food group. It contains calcium to help keep bones strong, protein to maintain muscle tissue and a variety of vitamins needed to regulate blood pressure, muscle contractions and energy release.

Milk is also a good, natural source of tryptophan – and this makes it excellent for helping you fall asleep.

What is tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found naturally in a range of foods. Amino acids act as building blocks to make proteins. An essential amino acid means that it is something that our bodies cannot produce themselves and so must be sourced from the diet.

Along with milk, some good food sources of tryptophan include:

  • Nuts and seeds – especially pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, cashews and almonds
  • Soy foods such as soybeans, tofu and tempeh
  • Oats
  • Beans and legumes such as lentils, kidney beans and white beans
  • Eggs
  • Cheese such as mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan
  • Meats like lamb, beef and pork
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fish – especially salmon, tuna, halibut, snapper and trout

“Serotonin is also known as the ‘mood’ hormone, and increased levels are associated with happiness and relaxation. Melatonin is known for its role in controlling your sleep-wake cycle.”

 

The role of tryptophan in sleep and mental health 

Tryptophan is used to make the brain transmitters serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin and melatonin are hormones that play a role in regulating various functions such as sleep and appetite.

Serotonin is also known as the ‘mood’ hormone, and increased levels are associated with feelings of happiness and relaxation. Melatonin is known for its role in controlling your sleep-wake cycle. Its production is stimulated in decreasing light, with highest concentrations seen during the night.

Studies have shown that inadequate tryptophan can be attributed to poorer mental health by inducing depression-like symptoms. For people who already suffer from clinical depression, poor tryptophan levels can increase their vulnerability to relapse. Conversely, increasing tryptophan levels can increase serotonin levels, which can result in a better mood, reduce irritability and increase agreeableness in everyday life.

Melatonin, and serotonin to a lesser degree, can affect the duration and quality of sleep. Not only can it help you get to sleep faster and have a deeper sleep, it can also help deter you from waking up until it’s light outside again. Research shows that increased melatonin can help prevent sleep disorders such as insomnia, as well as being an aid to get over jet lag.

Looking for more nutrition advice? To find an Accredited Practising Dietitian in your area visit daa.asn.au

Recommended reading - Eat like an athlete

Health Check

Taking your health into your own hands

It is important for us to manage our health in order to maximise our wellness and perform our best.

Read more
Recipes

Lean green vegetable soup recipe

Get your green fix with this zucchini and spinach soup, infused with fresh coriander.

Read more
Community

Healthy eating made easy

Simple tips to make healthy eating easy.

Read more
Experts

How to stay hydrated

Don’t wait for thirst to hit: keep fluids up throughout the day for optimal mind and body function.

Read more
Lifestyle

Healthy eating: A party season survival guide

Here's how to relish the odd festive indulgence – without too much New Year’s health regret.

Read more
Lifestyle

The secrets of a healthy lifestyle

Healthy lifestyles are born from habit. Here's how to create your own healthy habits today.

Read more
Recipes

Food to fuel your run

Whether you’re training, racing or recovering, what you eat plays a vital role.

Read more
Recipes

Workout recovery meal ideas

Enrich your fitness training with replenishing, post-exercise meals.

Read more
Community

Top four run and café combos

Exercising on the weekend is great. Take it slow, unwind from a busy week and find your rhythm.

Read more
Recipes

5 post-exercise weeknight dinners

You've earned it. Refuel after your workout with a nourishing dinner full of veggies and protein.

Read more

For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.