By Doris Obina
Eating a meal too close to bedtime can actually harm your sleep, especially if it’s a large amount of food.
As a general rule of thumb, nutritionists will tell you to wait about three hours after eating to sleep. This allows some digestion to take place and gives the contents of your stomach time to move to your small intestine.
Eating also triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that helps it use food for energy. This process can shift your body’s sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). Food can signal wakefulness in your brain and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
On how long to wait between eating and going to bed, medical director of God’s Goal Hospital, Ojo, Lagos, Dr. Gabiel Omonaiye, said that it is not recommended to go to bed immediately after meals: eating the heaviest foods in the morning, light meal in the afternoon and a very light meal in the evening and usually about three hours before going to bed. Try to leave at least three hours between a meal and going to bed.
“Lying down shortly after eating makes it easy for what’s in your stomach to back up, or ‘reflux’ into your throat (oesophagus). This can lead to nighttime heartburn, an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest, and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), such as a bitter taste in your mouth (or “burping” of food).
GERD is a chronic condition that occurs when there is weakness in the ring of muscle (sphincter) at the lower end of the esophagus. This weakness makes it easier for stomach acid to creep back up into the esophagus. At night, the symptom is more likely to occur if the stomach has not completely emptied before bedtime.
“Night heartburn can interfere with your ability to get enough sleep because you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia).
Foods that help you sleep
“Some foods contain substances that can improve your sleep. For example, turkey and pork chops contain high levels of a substance called tryptophan. When metabolized by our body, tryptophan turns into serotonin and melatonin, both of which play key roles in sleep.
“Other foods, such as cherries, naturally contain small amounts of melatonin. In general, a light snack before bed is fine and may even have some benefits.
“Also a 2015 study in the magazine nutrients concluded that eating a small snack (150 calories or less) before bed may actually benefit some of the processes in your body that take place while you sleep, such as the breakdown and rebuilding of muscle tissue and metabolic health. “Other foods can be comforting, such as a warm glass of milk or decaffeinated tea. Making this part of your regular bedtime routine will help you relax and mentally prepare for bed.
Foods to avoid before bed
“If you plan an evening snack, avoid foods that can cause heartburn, such as spicy and acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes. Alcohol, chocolate, and peppermint can also make heartburn and reflux worse.
“Alcohol can even cause fragmented and disturbed sleep. By relaxing the muscles of the airways, alcohol can also worsen conditions such as sleep apnea (when you repeatedly stop breathing for short periods during the night).
You also want to avoid coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate, which are sources of caffeine. Caffeine blocks a chemical that makes you sleepy (adenosine). If caffeine is consumed too close to bedtime, it can contribute to insomnia.
Caffeine can also make you urinate more at night. Getting up to use the bathroom can disrupt your sleep. Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine and people metabolize it at different rates. You may need to experiment with timing to find out what time of day you should stop consuming it if you don’t want it to affect your sleep.
“The food may not be digested and may become covered in fats over time and the person may begin to put on weight. After the meal in the evening one is expected to wait for the meal to be digested because if you go to sleep immediately, as part of the problem, the individual may regurgitate it and suffocation may occur.
“It is important to wait a few hours before eating so that the enzymes in the stomach have time to work on the food eaten.
“However, one study found that a person does not gain weight simply by going to bed right after eating, but the habit may be a factor in weight gain. Researchers have seen a link between later meals and weight gain, but they’re not exactly sure why there’s a link. It probably has to do with many factors, such as metabolism and insulin.
“Implications of falling asleep soon after eating include indigestion, heartburn, indigestion, sleep disturbance, unhealthy weight gain, obesity, poor health if the practice continues, and reflux of the food from the stomach to the esophagus and sometimes to the nostrils.
“Give yourself about three hours between eating your last meal and going to bed. A small evening snack is usually fine. However, you’ll want to avoid caffeine and spicy or acidic foods, which can cause insomnia and heartburn that can keep you up at night You’ll also want to avoid alcohol, which can disrupt your sleep and worsen conditions like sleep apnea.
“There is also evidence that chronic poor sleep is associated with long-term weight gain. Going to bed hungry can disrupt your sleep. When your blood sugar drops too low at night, your body wants you to be awake and looking for food.
“Try to take some time between drinking and going to bed, as you would with your meals. If you drink fluids right before bed, you’re more likely to have to wake up to urinate, which can disrupt your sleep. However, being dehydrated can negatively impact your sleep as well.
“Feeling like you’re ready for bed right after you eat (postprandial sleepiness) can be caused by several factors. For example, fatty, sweet, foods, alcohol, and large meals can make you sleepy. Certain health conditions such as thyroid disease, anemia, and diabetes can make you feel sleepy after eating.