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How Bad Is It to Eat Before Bed?

Whether it's a midnight snack or a late-night meal, you might find yourself opening up the fridge pretty close to bedtime. There's a lot of information out there around nighttime eating—most of it a little scary—but how bad is it, really, to eat before bed?

Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed?

We'll be honest: Eating before bed isn't ideal. Eating before bed every once in a while isn't a big deal, but it can get in the way of a good night's sleep.

Because of the way the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is set up, eating and then immediately lying down can cause two issues: heartburn (or acid reflux) or indigestion (also known as dyspepsia). Heartburn is when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus, causing a burning pain in the chest. Indigestion is marked by abdominal discomfort—bloating, nausea, and/or feeling too full. 

As you can imagine, trying to relax and fall asleep while you're experiencing heartburn or indigestion is much more difficult—and that's why it's recommended to avoid eating for a few hours before bedtime. That said, busy days happen—and if you haven't had dinner and you're debating going to bed hungry, it's probably better to have a proper meal. You may experience a little discomfort that evening, but it's important to have the calories and nutrients you need to fuel your body. There are some foods that are safer to eat right before bed (and some foods that should be avoided), so you can make choices that will set you up for a better night of sleep.

What Can You Eat Before Bed?

Most normal-sized meals will be fine if you have to eat before bed. Be mindful of portion size to reduce the risk of heartburn or indigestion. Having a very large meal is a leading trigger of indigestion, and lying down right after makes acid reflux more likely. Think about eating just enough to take the edge off your hunger if you know you're about to head to bed.

There are some foods that are better than others to have before bed. Foods that are lower in fat and fiber are easier for your stomach to break down, so it's less likely that you'll experience discomfort. Here are some good low-fiber options for a pre-bed snack:

  • Cherries
  • Low-fat or low-sugar yogurt
  • Bananas
  • A handful of nuts
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Cottage cheese
The Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed

Some foods (and drinks) can negatively impact your sleep quality if consumed right before bed. These can make it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, and tap into the REM cycle that's so critical for overall health. While having a snack before bedtime isn't a big deal, you should definitely avoid these foods before bed.

  • Caffeine. If you're debating an espresso to close out dinner, it's better to avoid it. Caffeine can stay in your system for a long time, so sleep experts recommend that you refrain from ingesting caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime.[1] Tea, soda, and even dark chocolate are all high in caffeine.
  • Alcohol. It may be called a nightcap, but an alcoholic drink is one of the worst things you can have before bed. Even though alcohol can make you drowsy, it severely impacts quality of sleep and can prevent you from tapping into restorative REM sleep.[2] It can even exacerbate sleep disorders like sleep apnea and snoring.
  • Spicy foods. Eating spicy food right before bed puts you at high risk for a poor night of sleep. For one, spicy food is often a trigger for heartburn. It may also cause insomnia or lower sleep quality.[3] [4] That's because capsaicin, the culprit behind spice, can elevate your body temperature and make it harder for your body to relax into sleep.
  • Acidic foods. Acidic food doesn't just mean lemons—oranges, tomatoes, onions, and white wine are all acidic foods to avoid before bed. Foods with a low pH can irritate the stomach, triggering indigestion and acid reflux.[5]
  • Fatty foods. Cheeseburgers, fried foods, and steaks are some of the worst foods to eat right before bed. These are harder to digest than other foods, which means your body will be working to break down these meals instead of relaxing, resting, and recovering.

Sleep is so important for your long-term health—and your short-term happiness. Making small changes to your daily schedule to eat dinner earlier in the evening, or swapping your usual pre-bed snacks for ones that are easier to digest, can create the conditions for your body to relax into a deep sleep. Just think: It might be the difference between waking up groggy and grumpy or well-rested and rejuvenated. And it's always worth it to invest in your sleep.

FAQs

Does eating before bed affect sleep?

Eating close to bedtime can reduce the quality of your sleep. Eating and then immediately lying down increases the risk of acid reflux—also known as heartburn—and indigestion. These issues can cause discomfort, keeping the body awake or preventing it from entering restorative REM sleep.

What's the worst thing to eat late at night?

Spicy, acidic, and fatty foods—things like curry, citrus, cheeseburgers, and steak—are all bad foods to eat before bed. Spicy and acidic foods can cause heartburn or acid reflux, while will make it harder to fall and stay asleep. It's also best to avoid alcohol and caffeine for at least six hours before bed to ensure the best quality sleep.

How long should I wait after eating to go to bed?

In general, you should have your last meal at least 2-3 hours before going to bed. This gives your body time to digest and process your meal and settle into a state of relaxation before entering sleep.

What should I do if I'm hungry before bed?

If you're hungry before bed, having a small, light snack can help ease discomfort without impacting your sleep. Look for a low-fiber, low-fat snack like cherries or bananas. If you're eating before bed, make sure not to eat too much—having a large meal can lead to indigestion and make it harder to fall asleep.

 

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/

[2] https://www.sleephealthsolutionsohio.com/blog/foods-avoid-before-sleep/

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18603220/

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1399758/

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22592763/