Action plan for insomnia

Balance blood sugar levels

This means cutting out sugar and all sources of sugar. Eat only unrefined carbohydrates (low GL) and ensure these are combined with protein and plenty of fibre (from non-starchy vegetables and fruit) to further slow the sugar release. Eat at regular intervals, ideally 3 meals and 3 snacks throughout the day.

Neurotransmitters and hormones

Eat foods which are high in tryptophan, like chicken, cheese, tuna, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk. Tryptophan requires the presence of insulin to escort it into the brain where it can be converted into serotonin, so include some carbohydrate (but keep it low GL) so you don’t disrupt blood sugar (see above).

If you are not taking antidepressant medication you could supplement either 500mg of tryptophan or 100 to 200mg of 5-HTP half an hour before you go to bed. In our experience about 5% of people who take these amino acids experience side-effects such as irritability and agitation – if you experience any unpleasant side-effects, discontinue the supplementation immediately.

Taurine is found primarily in meat and seafood, so you are likely to be most at need if you are a vegetarian. Try 1,000mg of taurine at night, taken away from food.

Up magnesium

Increase your magnesium intake through increased intake of green leafy vegetables (eg spinach, kale, cabbage, spring greens etc) and pumpkin seeds. You can also supplement 200-400mg of magnesium daily.

Avoid caffeine

Cut out caffeine or reduce significantly. If your consumption is high, make the reduction gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Remember that even a small amount of caffeine early in the day can affect sleep for some people. Instead, drink herbal teas or naturally caffeine free teas such as Roibos (redbush). You could also drink the occasional glass of tart cherry juice - those who drank two glasses of tart cherry juice versus placebo had increased melatonin levels, sleep duration and sleep quality, according to a recent study.

Clean up your sleeping space

Get rid off computers and other electronics from the bedroom. Ensure that your bedroom is dark and quiet. Relax and wind-down before bed, perhaps with a bath, meditation, relaxation exercises, music, herbal teas such as chamomile or valerian, so that by the time you get into bed you are already in a relaxed state. If you have things on your mind, write them down so you can forget about them until the morning.

Finding help

If you would like further help, you can visit our clinic the Brain Bio Centre which specialises in optimum nutrition for mental health recovery. We have helped many adults and children with sleep issues by working with them/their parents to create personalised nutritional programmes based upon their health history, symptoms and test results. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you, please click here.

Alternatively a register of nutritional therapists in your local area can be found by visiting the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Further reading


Feel Good Factor
Patrick Holford, 2010
This book provides practical advice on how to improve your mood without the need for medical drugs. It includes lifestyle and life management techniques, as well as revealing the right foods to eat, and those to avoid. It is supported by substantial research, and backed up by poignant and motivating case histories.

£2 from each book sale is donated to Food for the Brain.