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

Timing of Your Evening 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? 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.

The 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 can 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.

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 will reduce the likelihood of heartburn symptoms. It may also reduce the chance of having sleep disturbances contributing to insomnia.

In some people, a light snack before bedtime may not be bothersome. 

If after adjusting your meal times 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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