How Long to Wait Between Eating and Bed

Sleeping too soon after eating can lead to heartburn, insomnia, and more

If you've ever gone to bed right after dinner and had trouble sleeping, you might have wondered if there was a connection between the timing of your meal and your poor sleep.

How long should you wait between eating and going to bed? Is it bad to go to bed too soon after having a meal?

This article will go over what you should know about sleeping after eating. You'll learn about what happens if you go to bed too soon after you eat, as well as how different foods can help you get—or keep you from getting—a good night's rest.

Tips for Eating Before Bed
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

When to Sleep After Eating

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 to sleep after eating. 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 it use food for energy. This process can shift your body's sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). Food can signal wakefulness in your brain and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

Try to put at least 3 hours between a meal and bedtime. For example, if you have dinner at 6 p.m. try to wait to go to sleep until 9 p.m.

Nighttime Heartburn

Lying down shortly after eating makes it easy for what's in your stomach to back up (or "reflux") into your throat (esophagus).

This can lead to nighttime heartburn, an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest, and other gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms, such as a bitter taste in your mouth (or "burping up" food). 

GERD is a chronic condition that happens when there's weakness in the ring of muscle (sphincter) at the lower end of the esophagus. This weakness makes it easier for stomach acid to creep back up into the esophagus. At night, the symptom is more likely to occur if the stomach has not fully emptied by bedtime.

Nighttime heartburn can interfere with your ability to enough sleep because you have trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia).

Foods That Help You Sleep

Some foods have substances in them that may enhance your sleep. For example, turkey and pork chops contain high levels of a substance called tryptophan.

When it's metabolized by our bodies, tryptophan turns into serotonin and melatonin—both of which play a key role in sleep.

Other foods, like cherries, naturally contain small amounts of melatonin.

Can I Have a Bedtime Snack?

Generally speaking, having a light snack before bedtime is fine and might even have some benefits.

A 2015 study in the journal Nutrients concluded that having a small snack (150 calories or less) before bed might even be beneficial for some of the processes in your body that take place when you sleep, like muscle tissue breakdown and rebuilding and metabolic health.

Other foods can be comforting, like a warm glass of milk or tea with no caffeine. Making these part of your regular bedtime routine can help you unwind and mentally prepare for sleep.

Foods to Avoid Before Sleeping

When you're planning an evening snack, avoid foods that can trigger heartburn, like spicy and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes. Alcohol, chocolate, and peppermint can also worsen heartburn and reflux.

Will Alcohol Help Me Sleep?

While having an alcoholic beverage can make you feel sleepy at first, the effect wears off quickly. Ultimately, alcohol can actually cause fragmented and disrupted sleep.

By relaxing the muscles of the airway, alcohol can also worsen conditions like sleep apnea (where you repeatedly stop breathing for short periods at night).

You'll also want to avoid coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate, which are sources of caffeine.

Caffeine blocks a chemical that makes you feel sleepy (adenosine). When consumed too close to bedtime, caffeine can contribute to insomnia.

Caffeine can also make you have to urinate more at night (nocturia). Getting up to use the bathroom can interrupt your sleep.

Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine and people metabolize it at different rates. You might have to experiment with the timing to figure out what time of day you should stop consuming it if you don't want it to affect your sleep.

Summary

Give yourself about three hours between when you eat your last meal and bedtime. Having a small evening snack is usually fine. However, you'll want to avoid caffeine and spicy or acidic foods, which can be triggers for insomnia and heartburn that could keep you up at night.

You'll also want to avoid alcohol, which can disrupt your sleep and make conditions like sleep apnea worse.

A Word From Verywell

If you change up your evening meal and bedtime routine but you're still having sleep trouble, there could be an underlying cause that needs treatment. In this case, it can be helpful to see a sleep specialist.

If you have a condition like GERD that's interfering with your sleep, your provider might want you to try a sleeping wedge pillow or medication. If these treatments don't help with your GERD symptoms, your provider might recommend surgery.

There are also insomnia treatments, including medication and therapies, that might be helpful. You can talk to your provider about which options to start with.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will going to sleep after eating make you gain weight?

    You won't gain weight simply by going to bed right after you have a meal, but the habit can be a factor in weight gain. Researchers have seen a link between later meal times and weight gain but they aren't exactly sure why there's a connection. It likely is down to many factors, like metabolism and insulin.

    There is also some evidence that chronic poor sleep is linked to weight gain in the long run.

  • Should you go to bed hungry?

    Going to bed hungry can interrupt your sleep. If your blood sugar gets too low at night, your body will want you to be awake and go look for food.

  • Should you drink water before bed?

    Try to put some time between beverages and bedtime, as you would with your meals.

    Having fluids too close to bedtime can make it more likely that you'll need to wake up to urinate, which can disrupt your sleep. However, if you're dehydrated, that can also negatively affect your sleep.

  • Why do I feel sleepy and want to go to bed after I eat?

    Feeling like you're ready for bed right after you eat (postprandial sleepiness) can be caused by a variety of factors.

    For example, fatty, sweet, foods, alcohol, and big meals can make you feel sleepy.

    Certain health conditions like thyroid disorders, anemia, and diabetes can cause you to feel sleepy after you eat.

9 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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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.