How Long to Wait Before Sleeping After Eating

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

Whether it’s a midnight snack or simply your late dinner after a busy day, learn how much time should elapse before bedtime after eating and what symptoms you might experience, including insomnia and nighttime heartburn, if you don’t wait long enough before going to sleep.

Tips for Eating Before Bed
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Recommended Intervals

As a general rule of thumb, nutritionists will tell you to wait about three hours between your last meal and bedtime. This allows digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine. This may prevent problems like heartburn at night and even insomnia.

By allowing this delay, this will reduce the likelihood of heartburn symptoms. Lying down may cause the contents of the stomach to reflux into the esophagus, leading to heartburn or GERD symptoms. This is more likely to occur if the stomach has not fully emptied by bedtime.

Waiting for several after your last meal to lie down may reduce the chance of having sleep disturbances contributing to insomnia due to the impacts of the food itself on sleep.

On the other hand, the long-help belief that a two-hour interval 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 HbA1c levels.

Relationship Between Food and Sleep

There are some foods that 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, sleep-inducing agents. In addition, some foods like cherries contain small amounts of melatonin.

Other foods can be comforting, like a warm glass of milk, and this may help us to relax and mentally prepare for sleep as part of a regular bedtime routine. Alcohol in a nightcap can make us feel sleepy initially, but it wears off quickly and can actually fragment and disrupt sleep. It may also exacerbate sleep apnea by relaxing the muscles of the airway.

There is also evidence that the timing of food consumption can affect sleep. The intake of food prompts the release of insulin, which is a process that is also linked to the circadian rhythm. Food can signal wakefulness in the brain and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

When Eating Undermines Sleep

Eating too close to bedtime may actually harm your sleep. This may be especially true if you eat too much or eat certain foods that induce heartburn.

Lying down may cause reflux symptoms that cause burning chest discomfort and a bitter taste in your mouth. Some people describe this as "burping up food." Spicy and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes may be especially bothersome. Alcohol, chocolate, and even peppermint may also worsen heartburn and reflux.

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

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 muscle protein synthesis and cardiometabolic health.

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 the use of medications to treat heartburn may be necessary.

In rare cases, surgery may enhance the strength of the sphincter (ring of muscle) between the esophagus and stomach. Fortunately, simple interventions often probe to be successful.

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