How Long to Wait Between Eating and Bed

If you eat too late and have trouble falling or staying asleep, you might wonder: How long should I wait between eating and going to bed? Is it bad to go to bed too soon after eating?

This article will explore the relationship between food and sleep and how different types of foods can support or interfere with a good night's rest.

Tips for Eating Before Bed
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Recommended Timing

Eating a meal too close to bedtime may actually harm your sleep, especially if it's a large amount of food.

As a general rule of thumb, nutritionists will tell you to wait about three hours between your last meal and bedtime.

This allows some digestion to occur and gives time for the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine.

Eating also prompts the release of insulin, a hormone that helps your body use the food for energy. This process can shift the circadian rhythm, or your body's sleep-wake cycle. Food can signal wakefulness in the brain and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

On the other hand, the long-held belief that fasting for two hours between a meal and sleep can improve blood sugar control has been largely disproven. A 2019 study from Japan could find no association between the two-hour delay and A1c levels, a measure of long-term blood sugar levels.

Nighttime Heartburn

Lying down shortly after eating can cause the contents of the stomach to reflux into the esophagus, leading to nighttime heartburn, a digestive issue that can lead to an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest. It can also bring on other gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms, such as a bitter taste in your mouth. Some people describe this as "burping up food." 

GERD is a chronic condition often caused by weakness in the ring of muscle (sphincter) at the lower end of the esophagus. This makes it easier for stomach acid to creep back up into the esophagus. It is more likely to occur if the stomach has not fully emptied by bedtime.

Nighttime heartburn can contribute to insomnia, or the inability to get enough sleep because you have trouble falling or staying asleep.

Recap

Planning your meals so that there are several hours between your last meal and the time you lie down can reduce the likelihood of heartburn and other issues that disrupt sleep.

Foods That Help You Sleep

Some foods contain substances that may enhance sleep. For example, turkey and pork chops contain high levels of tryptophan, a substance that is metabolized by our bodies into serotonin and melatonin. Each of these can play a role in bringing on sleep.

Including these foods in your dinner may offer some support. In addition, some foods like cherries contain small amounts of melatonin.

Generally speaking, a light snack before bedtime is not problematic. A 2015 study in the journal Nutrients concluded that a small snack (150 calories or less) might even be beneficial for the process of muscle tissue breakdown and rebuilding and metabolic health.

Other foods can be comforting, like a warm glass of milk, and this may help you relax and mentally prepare for sleep as part of a regular bedtime routine.

Foods and Drinks that Undermine Sleep

If you have an evening snack, avoid foods that can contribute to heartburn. Spicy and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes may be especially bothersome. Alcohol, chocolate, and even peppermint may also worsen heartburn and reflux.

Alcohol can make you feel sleepy initially, but it wears off quickly and can actually fragment and disrupt sleep. By relaxing the muscles of the airway, alcohol may also exacerbate sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which you repeatedly stop breathing in the night.

In addition, caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate should be avoided. Caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical that makes you feel sleepy. When consumed too close to bedtime, caffeine may contribute to insomnia.

It can also increase the need to urinate at night, a condition referred to as nocturia. Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine, but if you are, consider restricting caffeine consumption to earlier in the day.

Summary

You may want to plan your dinnertime to allow about three hours between your last meal and bedtime to support a better night sleep.

A small evening snack shouldn't be an issue, but avoid caffeine and spicy and acidic foods that can contribute to reflux and heartburn.

Alcohol can also interfere with sleep even though it may make you sleepy initially.

A Word From Verywell

If you continue to have difficulty sleeping after separating mealtimes and bedtimes, speak with a sleep specialist about treatment options. Sometimes a sleeping wedge pillow or medications to treat heartburn may be necessary.

In rare cases, surgery may improve the strength of the sphincter (ring of muscle) between the esophagus and stomach. However, simple interventions are often successful.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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