A common piece of health- or diet-related advice that gets thrown around is that you shouldn’t eat right before bed.
However, there doesn’t seem to be readily available specifics provided in advice about how long before bed you should stop eating.
This leads many people to ask questions such as: Can I lay down 30 minutes after eating? Can I sleep 30 minutes after eating? Is eating before bed bad? How long before bed should you stop eating?
In this article, we will discuss the potential problems with sleeping after eating, try to separate the myths from the facts about if it is bad to eat before bed, and how long before bed you should stop eating to help you determine how long you should wait after eating to go to bed.
We will cover the following:
- Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed?
- Is It Ok to Eat Before Bed?
- Can I Eat 30 Minutes Before Going to Bed?
- How Long Before Bed Should You Stop Eating?
Let’s dive in!
Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed?
Before we try to answer specific questions such as “Can I lay down 30 minutes after eating?” and “Can I sleep 30 minutes after eating?”, let’s look at whether it is bad to go to bed right after eating.
It used to be that the going advice about sleeping after eating was that it was inadvisable across the board.
The primary reason that people thought you should not eat before bed was the misconception that eating before bed would lead to more significant weight gain because you would be unable to burn off the calories from a late-night snack or late meal.
This, in turn, would lead to weight gain.
However, in more recent years, research studies have disproved this misconception.
Ultimately, when you eat your calories in a day relative to when you sleep does not seem to play a significant role in how those calories are used and/or stored.
In other words, if your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is 2,000 calories per day and you indeed eat 2,000 calories per day, you will not gain more weight or store excess energy as body fat if you eat almost all of your daily calories before bed versus earlier in the day or spread out evenly throughout the day.
This is not to say that binging all of your calories in one meal a day right before bed is necessarily the healthiest approach, nor one that will help you feel and function optimally throughout the day.
But in terms of gaining weight from late-night eating, it seems to be that just because you are consuming the calories before bed does not mean that your calories will be stored as body fat.
Ultimately, whether you gain weight, lose weight, or maintain your weight is primarily a product of your overall caloric balance.
If you are in a caloric deficit, which means that you are burning more calories per day than you are consuming, you will lose weight.
If your caloric needs are met with your diet but not exceeded, you will maintain your weight, and if you eat more calories than you are expending, you will gain body fat.
Although our lives are scheduled in two different sections each day, the body functions on its own circadian rhythms or biological clock.
There are certain suggestions for optimal nutrient timing based on the energy needs of your body, overall health, and regulating blood sugar levels.
If you have a late dinner or late-night snacks but haven’t overeaten throughout the course of the day, your body will just use the calories you have eaten before bed to replenish the caloric deficit that has been generated over the prior 24 hours when you were not eating enough during the day to support your energy needs.
That said, eating large meals and rich foods like fatty meats and fried foods, and acidic foods like citrus and tomato products before bed is not recommended.
So, how do we make sense of this information in terms of whether it is bad to eat before bed?
Is It Ok to Eat Before Bed?
Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of eating before bed.
Benefits of Eating Before Bed
Here are some of the benefits of a bedtime snack:
#1: Certain Foods May Improve Sleep Quality
As mentioned, certain foods may help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer, so if you are judicious in your choices for a bedtime snack, you may find that eating before bed improves your sleep quality.
#2: Going to Bed Hungry Can Impact Sleep
If your stomach is growling because you have not eaten enough before bed or it’s been too long before bed that you had your dinner, you may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
#3: Eating Before Bed Can Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
This one comes down to making the right food choices for your late-night snack.
One of the problems with eating before sleeping is that your blood sugar can rise if you eat simple sugars and refined carbohydrates like cookies, candy, ice cream, other sweets, sugary cereal, fruit snacks, etc.
Eating simple carbohydrates causes a rapid and significant rise in blood sugar, which subsequently causes a reactive rise in insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps the cells in your body take up glucose out of circulation.
While eating sugary snacks and simple carbohydrates before bed is not good for your health and can potentially contribute to insulin resistance over time, health experts suggest that choosing low-glycemic bedtime snacks can actually help stabilize blood sugar levels, especially for people who have insulin resistance or diabetes.
Downsides of Eating Before Bed
Now, let’s look at the opposite side of the coin. Is eating before bed bad? Here are some of the risks of eating before sleeping or lying down for bed.
#1: Eating Before Bed Can Cause Heartburn
If you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or have acid reflux, you have probably received advice from your doctor to wait at least a couple of hours after eating before lying down.
Particularly if you eat a large meal, fatty meal, or acidic foods before bed, lying down after eating can cause acid reflux because some of the acidic digestive juices and even contents of the stomach will start to travel back upwards into the esophagus.
This is because a full stomach or certain triggering foods will cause the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the small muscular band at the top of the stomach that seals the junction between the esophagus and stomach, to relax.
Because the stomach has such a low pH (acidic environment), when you lie down after eating a big meal, you may experience burning and symptoms of heartburn such as coughing, sore throat, discomfort, bloating, and indigestion.
Over time, they can contribute to developing GERD.
#2: Eating Too Close to Bed Can Compromise Sleep Quality
While certain foods before bed can potentially improve sleep quality, other choices in what you eat before sleeping can negatively affect sleep quality.
For example, research suggests that high-calorie meals and snacks, especially those with a lot of fat and simple carbohydrates, can increase the length of time it takes to fall asleep when you eat one hour before bed.
Similarly, eating less than an hour before bed (versus at least two hours before sleeping) can cause you to wake up more often in the middle of the night, again if the late-night meal is high in calories, fat, and simple carbohydrates.
Can I Eat 30 Minutes Before Going to Bed?
Your own personal timing regarding eating and sleeping will vary based on your health status.
For example, if you are asking the question, “Can I eat 30 minutes before laying down?” and you suffer from acid reflux or GERD, most doctors would say no—you should not eat 30 minutes after lying down.
How Long Before Bed Should You Stop Eating?
The general recommendation is to wait 2 to 4 hours after eating a large meal to lie down if you have acid reflux. On the other hand, if your digestion is fine, a small bedtime snack may actually be beneficial 30 to 60 minutes before bed.
Of course, the biggest caveat here is that how much you eat and your food choices in what you eat before sleeping matter tremendously.
Try to stick to nutritious, well-balanced bedtime snacks that are particularly high in protein and low in simple carbohydrates.
Consider choosing foods that contain tryptophan or melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
To learn more about good snacks before bed, check out our article on tart cherry juice here.