Best and Worst Foods for Sleep

Here's what to eat (and not to eat) before bed for a good night's sleep.

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Can't sleep? Try adjusting your food intake before you hit the sheets. Watch this video to see seven foods you should consider eating to have a great night's sleep.

01 of 15

Cherries

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Best: Cherries are one of the few natural foods to contain melatonin, the chemical that helps control our body's internal clock, Keri Gans, a registered dietician in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet, tells Health. One study—albeit a small one—found that drinking tart cherry juice resulted in small improvements in sleep duration and quality in adults who suffered from chronic insomnia.

02 of 15

Bacon Cheeseburger

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Worst: The stratospheric fat content of this particular fast food is guaranteed to be a sleep killer. Fat stimulates the production of acid in the stomach, which can spill up into your esophagus, causing heartburn. Fatty foods can also loosen the lower esophageal sphincter, the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, making it even easier for acid to get in all the wrong places.

03 of 15

Milk

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Best: You may have fond memories of your mother or grandmother making you a glass of warm milk to help you fall asleep. This may not be just an old wives' tale. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin. Although the topic is a controversial one, some people believe that tryptophan and serotonin might make it easier to sleep.

04 of 15

Wine

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Worst: Alcohol of any kind is "terrible" for sleep. Why? It metabolizes quickly in your system and causes you to wake up multiple times during the night. One study found that a glass of bourbon or vodka mixed with caffeine-free soda at bedtime increased the amount of time women spent awake during the night by 15 minutes. It also reduced nightly sleep time by 19 minutes and diminished quality of sleep.

05 of 15

Jasmine rice

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Best: Jasmine rice ranks high on the glycemic index, meaning the body digests it slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming jasmine rice four hours before bedtime cut the amount of time it took to fall asleep in half when compared with eating a high-glycemic-index meal at the same time interval.

06 of 15

Coffee

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Worst: Coffee contains caffeine, which is a central nervous stimulant. Translation: Drinking it too close to bedtime will keep you up at night. Of course, people differ in their sensitivity to caffeine and that's usually based on how much caffeine you're accustomed to consuming, Timothy Roehrs, PhD, a senior scientist with Henry Ford Sleep Disorder and Research Center in Detroit, tells Health. If you don't know your tolerance, skip the java, especially late in the day.

07 of 15

Fortified cereal

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Best: Carbs in general are good for sleep but it's not a great idea to binge on a box of cookies before bedtime (or anytime). Instead, try a bowl of Kashi or shredded wheat which contain "good" or complex carbs. Even better, cereal goes well with milk which has its own sleep-promoting qualities. Other complex carbs are quinoa, barley, and buckwheat.

08 of 15

Dark chocolate

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Worst: Chocolate contains not only calories, but caffeine, especially dark chocolate. A 1.55-ounce Hershey's milk chocolate bar, for instance, contains about 12 milligrams of caffeine.

A Hershey's special-dark bar has 20 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as half an ounce of espresso. Chocolate also contains theobromine, another stimulant that can increase heart rate and sleeplessness.

09 of 15

Bananas

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Best: Bananas help promote sleep because they contain the natural muscle-relaxants magnesium and potassium, says Gans. They're also carbs which will help make you sleepy as well. In fact, bananas are a win-win situation in general. "They're overall health promoters," says Rosenberg. "We need potassium for cardiovascular health and cognitive functioning."

10 of 15

Red Bull

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Worst: Yup, the culprit here again is caffeine, and it's present in spades. An eight-ounce Red Bull energy drink contains about 80 milligrams of caffeine or equivalent to a one-ounce Starbucks espresso. Five-Hour Energy packs 200 milligrams of caffeine into just two ounces, which means you might as well be imbibing 16 ounces of regular coffee. With this much caffeine, you might do well to avoid energy drinks even earlier in the day. "In some people caffeine can take up to eight hours to wear off," says Gans.

11 of 15

Turkey

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Best: Like milk, turkey contains tryptophan, a chemical that can make people doze off in front of the TV after Thanksgiving dinner. But if you're a die-hard insomniac, a meal's worth of turkey (or a glass of milk) isn't likely to help you.

12 of 15

Mountain Dew

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Worst: Mountain Dew MDX and Vault contain 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving. That's the upper limit of what the US Food and Drug Administration allows. Other sodas aren't much better. Also, typical soda drinks like Pepsi and Coke contain citrus as well as sodium benzoate and other chemicals which can aggravate the gastrointestinal tract and promote acid reflux, which, needless to say, is not a recipe for a good night's sleep.

13 of 15

Sweet Potato

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Best: Sweet potatoes are a sleeper's dream. Not only do they provide sleep-promoting complex carbohydrates, they also contain that muscle-relaxant potassium. Other good sources of potassium include regular potatoes (baked with the skin on), lima beans, and papaya.

14 of 15

Indian Curry

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Worst: It's not Indian food per se but the heavy spices which can keep you awake at night. One study conducted in Australia found that young men who poured Tabasco sauce and mustard on their dinner had more trouble falling asleep and experienced less deep sleep than men who ate blander suppers. Spices can also cause heartburn. So definitely don't do spicy and high-fat in the same late-day meal. It's a potential sleep-wrecking recipe.

15 of 15

Valerian Tea

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Best: The root of the valerian plant has been shown in some studies to speed the onset of sleep and improve sleep quality. Some people hold that valerian tea along with motherwort, chamomile, and catnip brews, none of which contain caffeine, will help make you drowsy.

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