The 5 Best Takeout Meals For A Good Night's Sleep

Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
This is it, you tell yourself. This is the week I'm finally getting my sleep back on track. But what happens when you go in on a Seamless dinner order with your roommates? Or you decide to stop at your favorite sushi place on the way to an exciting night on the couch with Netflix? You may not realize it, but your dinner choices can have a big impact on how easily you drift off to sleep later. Fried stuff, spicy food, and even red meat can actually make it likelier that you'll toss and turn.

The good news is that, according to Lisa Young, PhD, RD, CDN, adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU Steinhardt, you've got a lot of great options — some foods could even help you calm down and get to sleep faster. As she's told us before, "Food can absolutely help [your sleep], and it can absolutely hurt." So making the right meal choices can be the difference between waking up refreshed and spending the night tossing and turning.

In general, you're going to want to forgo the aforementioned fried foods, high spice levels, and red meat, as well as alcohol. All of these can negatively affect your body's natural falling-asleep processes. This is also one area where portion size really matters — it's basically impossible to get a good night's sleep when you're uncomfortably full. That means that mindful eating habits are especially important here, so do your best to eat without scrolling through Instagram or letting Netflix roll on autoplay — tune in to your hunger and fullness cues.

Instead, gravitate towards menu items that pair carbs (preferably whole grains) with a small amount of lean protein, such as fish or chicken. Some nutritious veggies and a little bit of tryptophan-rich dairy will help calm you down as well. And many fruits, nuts, and vegetables contain compounds — such as potassium and melatonin — that make it easier for your body to relax when you're ready to hit the hay.

Ahead, check out five examples of takeout meals that won't mess with your sleep.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.

In general, ordering sushi is probably going to be your best bet for uninhibited ZZZs because you're able to get some carbs, fiber-full avocado, and lean protein — without automatically oversized portions, says Dr. Young. But stick with brown rice if you can because it'll take a little longer for you to digest. And do your best to avoid spicy rolls and tempura because they can be too tough to digest.

Best meal: Salmon and avocado roll or California roll with brown rice.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.

As usual, opt for chicken or fish over steak or pork when you can because those lean meats are easier to digest (and some, such as salmon, even contain tryptophan). Also be sure to go for some carbs in the form of rice or tortillas. "A little bit of cheese can be okay, too," says Dr. Young, because it contains tryptophan. But too much cheese can easily make a meal feel heavy, causing discomfort that'll make it hard to get to sleep.

Best meal: Fish tacos with veggies.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.

Here, Dr. Young suggests going with a classic pasta-plus-red-sauce dish of your choice because you'll get those sleep-inducing carbs without a too-heavy sauce. Feel free to add some chicken for protein. And, if you can get whole wheat pasta, that's even better.

But this is one type of cuisine in which portions tend to be quite large, so Dr. Young recommends going with an appetizer portion if possible. If you do end up going with a full-sized meal, we'd also suggest eating slowly so you can pay attention to the signals your body is sending you — and even saving some for lunch tomorrow.

Best meal: Whole wheat pasta with red sauce and cheese.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.

The key here is to "avoid the spiciest dishes," advises Dr. Young, and to stay away from heavier, buttery sauces. That means heading in the direction of tandoori chicken rather than tikka masala. Saag paneer, with its veggie/cheese combo and a side of rice, is another great option.

Best meal: Saag paneer or tandoori chicken with jasmine rice and veggies.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.

Dr. Young says fried rice isn't her favorite for helping you get to sleep — she ranks it behind brown rice and jasmine rice — but it'll get the job done. Throw in some chicken for lean protein and vegetables because they're never a bad idea.

Best meal: Rice with chicken and veggies.

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