Sleeping Right After Eating: Good or Bad?

Sleeping Right After Eating: Good or Bad?
13.01.2024
  • Going to bed or lying down after eating a meal can cause symptoms like acid reflux, indigestion, or regurgitation, and can also interrupt your sleep.
  • To avoid the health risks of sleeping too soon after a meal, experts generally recommend waiting at least a half hour after drinking fluids and at least 2–3 hours after having solid foods before lying down to go to sleep. 
  • If you have to eat a late meal before bed because of work or busy schedules, experts recommend smaller, low-fat meals, because they’re easier to digest.

Ninety-one percent of Americans snack between dinner and bedtime, most often with ice cream, cookies, chips, popcorn, and candy. While a bedtime snack is typically harmless, going to sleep on a stomach full of snacks or a heavy meal can be detrimental to your sleep quality and your overall health.

When you go to sleep, your body is focused on rest and recovery, not digestion. Eating right before bed or at night can disrupt the digestive process, leading to discomfort, stomach issues, and a compromised metabolism. Over time, this can contribute to weight gain and related health conditions.

“The size of the meal matters. Larger meals are generally more challenging for the digestive system to process, especially in a reclined position,” Madathupalayam Madhankumar, MD, a surgical gastroenterologist at iCliniq, told Verywell.

Health Risks of Eating Before Bed 

Going to sleep after a snack isn’t a huge issue, but dozing off after a large meal can lead to a range of symptoms, especially for people with conditions like hiatal hernia, obesity, and sleep apnea, Jesse Houghton, MD, board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology and Senior Medical Director of Gastroenterology at the Southern Ohio Medical Center, told Verywell.

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Here are just a few of the problems you might find yourself dealing with if you eat too close to bedtime.

  • Indigestion and acid reflux: A reclined position makes it possible for stomach acid to move up into the esophagus, contributing to indigestion or acid reflux. Madhankumar said this feels like a discomfort or burning sensation throat.
  • Sleep disruptions: If you experience acid reflux, your sleep quality may also be impacted. Eating a heavy meal right before bed can also keep your metabolism working hard and possibly raise your body temperature higher than is optimal for sleep, Jade Wu, PhD, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist and Mattress Firm Sleep Advisor, told Verywell.
  • Weight gain: Over time, the effects of consuming excess calories just before your metabolism is supposed to slow down for the night can contribute to weight gain. This can increase the risk of other health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol, Houghton said. 

A 2015 study showed that night shift workers who consumed more of their total daily calories after dinner had higher rates of overweight, abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol levels than daytime workers, and also had health concerns like impaired blood sugar (glucose) tolerance and decreased kidney function.

When Should You Stop Eating Before Sleep? 

When to stop eating before bed depends on what you plan to eat. Different foods and beverages take different amounts of time to pass from the stomach to the small intestine, Houghton said.

Clear liquids like water and juice pass through the stomach the fastest. Full liquids, like protein shakes and coffee with creamer, will take longer. Solid foods, especially high-fat ones, are the slowest to digest.

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“The longer after eating that you lay down to sleep, the better,” Houghton said, adding that a good rule of thumb is to wait at least a half hour after drinking fluids and at least two to three hours after eating solid foods before you tuck in for the night.

That two- to three-hour wait gives your digestive system enough time to process a meal effectively, making it less likely that you’ll experience acid reflux or indigestion, said Madhankumar.

What If You Have to Eat Before Sleep? 

If work or scheduling puts you in the position of having to eat a late-night meal and go to sleep shortly after, keep it light and simple.

“Smaller, low-fat meals are best, as they are less likely to distend the stomach and are easier to digest,” Houghton said.

Madhankumar suggests choosing easy-to-digest foods, like lean proteins (grilled chicken, fish, and turkey), as well as veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Try to avoid foods that are heavy, spicy, or high-fat, all of which can contribute to acid reflux, indigestion, and discomfort.

Drinking water can also improve digestion, but overdoing it can lead to reflux and regurgitation (not to mention prompting a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip).

If you can, stay upright for at least 30 minutes after you eat to reduce the risk of dealing with acid reflux when you go to bed, Madhankumar said. A little bit of light physical activity, such as taking a short walk, can also help with digestion.

Takeaway Note

Eating too close to when you go to sleep can lead to acid reflux, indigestion, poor sleep, and even weight gain. Experts recommend waiting two to three hours after eating solid foods before going to sleep. If you have to eat a meal and go to bed shortly after, stick to something light and low-fat and try to stay upright for at least 30 minutes before you head off to sleep.

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