How Long Should You Wait Between Eating and Going to Bed to Sleep?

Timing of Your Last Meal May Contribute to Nighttime Heartburn, Insomnia

Eating late may contribute to heartburn and insomnia if you don't wait long enough between eating and going to sleep
Eating late may contribute to heartburn and insomnia if you don't wait long enough between eating and going to sleep. Tooga/Stone/Getty Images

If you eat 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, 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.

How Long to Wait Between Meals and Bedtime?

In general, it is recommended that you wait for 2 to 3 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.

Lying down several hours after your last meal may also reduce the chance of having sleep disturbances contributing to insomnia due to the impacts of the food itself on sleep.

The Complex 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. Alcohol in a nightcap can make us feel sleepy initially, but it wears off quickly and can actually fragment and disrupt sleep.

There is also some evidence that the timing of food can affect our sleep. It may prompt the release of insulin, which may have a role in shifting our circadian rhythm.

When Eating Too Late 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. Spicy and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes may be especially bothersome.

In addition, caffeine in coffee, tea, soda pop, energy drinks, and chocolate should be avoided. It blocks adenosine, a chemical that naturally makes us feel sleepy, and when consumed too close to bedtime may contribute to insomnia. It can also increase the need to urinate, which can lead to disruptive nocturia.

In some people, a light snack before bedtime may not be bothersome. If it is tolerated, you need not worry about having a late bite to eat. It is recommended that lighter fare be consumed.

A Word from Verywell

If after adjusting your meal times earlier, allowing for 2 to 3 hours to pass before going to bed, you continue to have difficult falling or staying asleep, speak with a sleep specialist about ways to help you to sleep better.

Sources:

Healthy Sleep Tips.” National Sleep Foundation. Last accessed: November 22, 2014.

Sato, M et al. "The Role of the Endocrine System in Feeding-Induced Tissue-Specific Circadian Entrainment." Cell Reports. Vol. 8(2):393-401. 24 July 2014.

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