We’ve all been told that eating a meal before bed can have unhealthy side effects — the biggest being weight gain. But depending on what you eat, that might not necessarily be the case. So, how does eating before sleep really affect your body?
Why is it Bad to Eat Before Bed?
Eating right before going to bed is not recommended because it works against the body’s circadian rhythm.
When you eat just before going to sleep you do not give the body the proper time to digest and burn off the calories you have just ingested. Instead of being used as fuel for the day, those calories will be turned into fat and stored in the body.
Your body gains weight when you take in more calories than you burn off. This is the case no matter when you eat.
Going to sleep directly after you eat means your body doesn’t get a chance to burn off those calories. In fact, eating a big meal and then hitting the couch can be just as harmful.
Eating an early dinner allows your body time to burn off extra calories before you go to sleep. Late-night snacks tend to be high-calorie foods — such as ice cream or potato chips — so it’s more important to watch the types of foods you are eating before sleep rather than when you are eating them.
Eating before bed can also affect how well you sleep during the night. Fatty or heavy foods may cause bloating and stomach pain that can keep you tossing and turning. Also, spicy foods that cause heartburn or indigestion can keep you from getting a good night’s rest.
While it is important to watch what you eat before bed, eating a small healthy snack might not be a bad idea. Going to bed with a growling stomach can be just as uncomfortable as eating too much. A small snack also can keep you from binge eating at breakfast in the morning.
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Why Do I Get Tired After I Eat?
Feeling tired after eating is a common occurrence. Your body takes anywhere from 30 to 40 hours to full digest a meal. As you continue to add food to your stomach, your body must continually work to digest it. Eating a large meal can take some energy to digest, making you feel a bit tired.
Also consider what you ate. Meals heavy with carbohydrates or protein may make you feel tired as these foods take time to digest and release hormones that can make you feel tired. There also is research that shows that foods rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid, can lead to the body producing more serotonin, the chemical that regulates mood and sleep cycles. Eating foods such as cheese, fish, eggs, and chicken — which all contain Tryptophan — can make you feel tired afterward.
How Long Should You Wait to Sleep After Eating?
It is recommended that you stop eating about three hours before you plan to go to bed. This will give your body enough time to properly digest the food you have eaten without disrupting your sleep, but also allowing time to notice any symptoms of acid reflux or any other digestion related irritation.
For those who eat early and sleep later, it actually may be beneficial to have a small healthy snack before bed.
What to Eat Before Bed
While it is important to watch what you eat before bed, there are some healthy options. If done the right way, snacking before bed might actually be healthy. Choosing the right foods can help you sleep better and feel energized the next day. Some healthy bedtime snacks include:
- Almond mix.
- Warm milk and honey.
- Chamomile tea.
- Tart cherry juice.
- Peanut butter.
- Low fat yogurtwith fruit.
It is important to remember that it is not necessary when you are eating but what and how much you are eating that might be affecting your sleep and causing you to gain weight.
What to Avoid Eating Before Bed
While it may be recommended not to eat at all before bed, anything high in fat and sugar should certainly be avoided before bed. Other foods to avoid eating before bed include:
- Ice cream
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.