What you eat, how much, and most importantly what time you eat affects the quality of sleep you will get at the end of every day. The answer to the question “how long should I wait to sleep after eating?” is, between one to three hours (depending on the type of food) between consumption of a meal and bedtime.
Sleeping immediately after eating can cause you a bloated stomach, making you have trouble falling or even staying asleep which results in interrupted sleep. If this becomes repetitive and doesn’t get addressed, it could accelerate to insomnia and other sleeping disorders.
What is the relationship between food and sleep?
There is a tendency to feel drowsy and be tempted to take a quick nap immediately after finishing a heavy meal. But no matter how strong the temptation is, do not give in because it is unhealthy and could cause you a number of problems.
After the consumption of a meal, the brain directs most of the blood to the digestive organs signaling them to start the process of digestion. This might give you the urge to sleep since all organs including the brain are getting a limited supply of blood at this point as the body is occupied in performing this single act.
Foods that induce sleep
Some foods actually have sleep-enhancing substances. Tryptophan is an amino acid contained in different types of foods and which metabolizes to serotonin and melatonin- well-known sleep enhancers.
You will find tryptophan in dietary protein or protein-based foods such as; chocolate, cottage cheese, oats, yogurt, almonds, dates, poultry, fish, eggs, red meat among others. Having a warm glass of milk has also been known to relax the brain and help you sleep.
Just as there are foods that enhance sleep, there are some that inhibit it and promote wakefulness. Adenosine is a chemical that helps us to fall asleep naturally. Certain foods block the production of this chemical leading to insomnia.
Let us identify what foods these are so we can stay away from them especially in the hours just before bedtime;
Foods that inhibit sleep
Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea together with energy drinks and soft drinks (such as sodas) should be avoided entirely.
If you have a low tolerance for caffeine, make sure you limit your consumption of it to early in the day to avoid disruptive sleep patterns since caffeine is a brain stimulating substance.
It is recommended to let at least 6 to 8 hours to elapse between consumption of caffeine and sleeping. Also, do not consume any large amounts of liquids, to avoid waking up frequently during the night to urinate.
Alcohol, on the other hand, may initially seem to induce sleep because it is a sedative, but its effects do not last and it ends up disrupting your sleep. Cigarettes are another big no. Since cigarettes contain nicotine which is a stimulant just like caffeine, smoking before bedtime is discouraged.
Stay away from large intakes of foods especially those that are rich in carbohydrates right before bedtime. Foods such as pasta, bananas, bread, and sugary foods are also not recommended. Another group of foods to avoid is fatty and/or spicy foods which can cause indigestion or slow down the digestion process.
Effects of eating too late
As we have discussed above, eating too close to bedtime is unhealthy and could compromise the quality of your sleep. Some of the effects include;
Eating heavy meals right before bedtime can cause you to feel bloated which can be extremely uncomfortable. This can cause you to toss and turn throughout the night or have to wake up multiple times due to lack of body comfort.
Foods such as beans, garlic, apples, dairy products, and carbonated drinks among others can cause the production of gas which results in a bloated stomach. Restrict the consumption of such foods to minimal quantities throughout the week.
Heartburn or GERD
If you lie down immediately after finishing a meal, the likelihood of acid reflux also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is very high. Acids may flow out of the stomach causing a burning sensation and irritate the esophagus. If not addressed, this might accelerate to chest pains and chronic cough.
Acidic and spicy foods such as citrus are known to worsen the situation and should be avoided too. If you have the GERD disease, it is advised to maintain an upright posture for about an hour after eating to minimize the probability of this from happening. Stay about two to three hours between eating and sleeping.
Sleep apnea occurs when someone`s breathing is interrupted during sleep. It causes one to wake up multiple times but the wake time can be so short that the individual doesn`t realize they woke up. This happens when soft tissues at the back of the throat block the airway causing obstructive sleep apnea. Or when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, attributed to instability in the respiratory control center.
This may result in central sleep apnea which can be fatal since the brain and other body parts may be getting limited or no oxygen at that particular time.
Foods such as bananas and high-fat dairy products trigger mucus production which in turn influences breathing problems and should, therefore, be avoided. Alcohol is linked to obstructive sleep apnea because it relaxes your airway muscles.
Limit yourself to a light snack if you must and check for any other factors that may be affecting the quality of your sleep such as stress, depression, body exercise, among others, and deal with them accordingly. Sometimes all you need is to try out a different sleeping position.
If you continue to experience disrupted sleep or any of the above-named symptoms even after changing your diet and letting enough time to elapse between eating and sleeping, it may be time to see a sleep specialist to help you acquire quality rest and sleep.