Have you ever tried to sleep after eating a heavy meal, and you can just feel the food in your stomach sitting there making all sorts of quirky noises? Last night, I went out to dinner with my family. Two chicken breasts, a plate full of chips, half a steak and a side of salad later, I found myself in my bed trying to get to sleep. It was around 11pm, I was having a really rough time trying to get to sleep with a meal that could feed two sitting in my stomach. After that fulling yet uncomfortable experience, I thought I’d dive deep and find the answer to the commonly-asked question: is it bad to sleep after eating?
What Happens When You Eat And Sleep
The first and most obvious point is that there’s food in your belly that needs to be digested. But it feels like the two go hand in hand – what’s the first thing you want to do after eating a huge meal? Lay down and rest, of course. However, even though it may feel appropriate to rest after eating, that’s a big no-no for your body.
The problem with eating after sleeping is that your body is most comfortable digesting food in an upright position, allowing it to absorb food easily. So unless you catch your zzz’s standing up like a horse, sleeping after eating is going to interfere with your digestion process, which can lead to a number of digestive diseases.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
With improper digestions comes diseases like Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a fancy name for when the food inside your stomach comes back up into your esophagus. This allows stomach acid to come up and creates that burning sensation you may have experienced in your throat.
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Sleep And Weight Loss
Let’s clear up this weight gain and eating before sleeping myth: if you’re wanting to lose weight, the most important thing is to burn more calories than you consume. Whether you eat all the calories in the morning, afternoon or prior to sleeping is not as important as being in a caloric deficit.
With that being said, the majority of us don’t have dinner immediately before sleeping. Let’s say you might have dinner at around 8pm and you generally go to bed at 11pm-midnight. You might be thinking, “Well this is fine right? Roughly 3 hours for my body to digest dinner seems like plenty of time.” But, the problem isn’t with dinner, but with late-night snacking.
If you’re like me, you may start feeling a little hungry just before bedtime. After a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is to cook another whole meal. It’s much easier to eat something that doesn’t take long to prepare and satisfies your hunger.
This usually comes in the form of quick carbohydrates and unhealthy fats such as chips or leftover pizza. These quick fixes are a sure-fire way to increase your caloric intake – something that needs to be monitored if you’re wanting to lose weight.
How Long Should You Wait To Sleep After Eating
Now that you know the disadvantages of sleeping after eating and the effect it has on your digestion, the only question left is how many hours before bed should you stop eating. The recommended amount of time is around two to four hours. This will give your body enough time to digest food in an upright position, as well as avoiding the feeling of lying down with a huge meal in your stomach.
Snacks You Can Have Before Sleeping
However, sometimes a couple hours after eating dinner, you’re still hungry. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to have something light just to satiate your hunger levels. Some requirements for pre-sleep snacks include:
Easily digestible for the body (which includes both the size of the snack plus the quality of the food)
Low in calories
Low in calories (if weight loss is one of your concerns)
Tastes delicious (unless you’re a fan of terribly-tasting food)
Take away the greasy, fat-filled foods like burgers and pizza – they’re going to add a bunch of unwanted calories, plus they’re extremely hard for the body to digest. Something like a serving of whole-grain crackers with cottage cheese is perfect for a pre-sleep snack. It’ll satisfy your hunger, is easily digestible and a healthy source of both carbs and protein.
If you’re more of a cereal fan, you can have a bowl of whole-grain cereal with some milk. Try to avoid the cereals filled with added sugar, as these contain more calories which can spike your insulin levels.
3 Quick Tips To Help You Sleep Better And Avoid Digestion Problems
It’s not so much an effect on calories (even though late night eating is associated with weight gain due to excessive snacking) as much as how it affects your digestive system. With that being said, here are 3 tips you can use to help you sleep better and avoid digestive problems:
1. Have your dinner at least two hours before sleeping. This will give your body enough time to digest it, and help prevent any digestion problems caused from lying down immediately after eating.
2. If you’re wanting a snack, have something light like crackers or whole-grain cereal. They’re easily digestible by your body and are healthy sources of carbs and protein.
3. Stay away from heavy foods prior to eating. This includes foods such as pizza, burgers or any fried foods as they’re difficult for the body to digest and are calorically dense.
If you have any questions, just comment them below and I’ll answer them as soon as possible. Sleep well, everyone!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does sleeping with two or more pillows help reduce acid reflux?
You know it’s a bad idea to eat a big meal before bed, yet time after time you end up snacking on cold leftover barbeque chicken and creamy mashed potatoes with gravy, the perfect recipe to a miserable night’s sleep with burning indigestion. When this happens, there is something you can do to alleviate your discomfort that doesn’t involve taking an antacid — sleeping in an elevated position. Proper digestion occurs best when we are in an upright position because gravity keeps gastric acid in the stomach, where it belongs. Obviously, you can’t sleep standing up, but if you elevate your head and upper torso with pillows, you can keep the gastric acid in your stomach, reducing the burning sensation of GERD. Ideally, you should try and elevate your head and shoulders to an angle of between 35 and 45 degrees. A wedge pillow with a mid-loft is a wise choice, as is an adjustable bed frame that can lift your upper body to the right angle.
What is the best sleeping position to help with night-time indigestion?
Most people prefer to sleep in a particular position: There are side sleepers, back sleepers and those who end up on their stomachs. Multiple research studies have found that the best side to sleep on to alleviate or reduce the symptoms of indigestion and GERD, is the left side because sleeping with your left side down reduces reflux episodes and exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid. Sleeping in other positions, including on your back, can make reflux more likely. In fact, sleeping on your back is the worst position for acid reflux because your stomach acid is able to flow back into your esophagus much more freely, and will stay there as you lay in a horizontal position. If you find it difficult to change your preferred sleep position, try it in stages, training yourself for small amounts of time to change from your back or stomach to your left side.
Are heartburn and indigestion the same?
Many people use the words heartburn and indigestion interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. They are actually two different conditions. Indigestion is a general term that refers to a wide range of digestive issues and presents as a painful or burning feeling in your upper belly or abdomen. Indigestion can be caused by a number of different health problems such as ulcers or it can be the result of lifestyle or eating habits. Heartburn, on the other hand, occurs when stomach acid escapes into your esophagus, often referred to as GERD, and is considered to be one type of indigestion.