A big nap from a huge dinner sometimes seems to go hand in hand; so is it bad to lay down after eating?
The true answer is that it depends on a lot of other factors at play.
Let’s take a look at what research says about the timing of eating, sleeping, and foods that promote or disrupt sleep.
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Is it bad to lay down after eating?
As a general rule, it is best to stay upright after eating to help with the natural digestive processes.
That said, many people can get away with the occasional cat-nap after a meal if they eat healthy foods and beverages.
Eating and laying down is a mixed bag, though.
It’s best to not eat a big meal and go straight to bed at night, and I’ll get into why.
And for sure, lying down WHILE eating is a bad idea because it is a choking hazard. This is because eating lying down makes it challenging for the swallow muscles to work correctly.
Why is it bad to lay down after eating?
The natural flow of digestion relies on gravity, which means that when you are upright, stomach acid goes the right way; downwards.
If you fall asleep right after eating, there is too much pressure in the stomach from the food. This can cause your stomach acid to reflux into your esophagus causing heartburn.
When you do this repeatedly, you have an increased risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
But one major reason to try and avoid eating before bed is that it helps extend your fast at night.
Intermittent fasting reduces the risk of many diseases. This includes a reduction in cancer risk. Additionally, fasting may help aid weight loss, reduce inflammation, may slow aging, improve digestion, and improve circadian rhythms [R, R, R].
Fasting for gut repair is also a key benefit of avoiding late-night eating.
Does lying down after eating make you gain weight?
Lying down after eating also brings up long-held beliefs about night eating and weight gain. This is logical because the body’s metabolic rate slows down for sleep.
However, not all research shows that eating before bedtime causes weight gain [R].
It really depends on what you eat, how much you exercise, and how much you eat too.
Still, if you are trying to lose weight, it makes sense to curb your food intake in the evening and not graze on a bunch of unhealthy snacks.
Is lying down bad for digestion?
Lying down after a meal is bad for digestion.
This is because the muscles of the digestive tract aren’t as effective at moving foods the way they need to go in a lying position.
Many people feel like lying down after eating causes bloating too.
This is because indigestion of food due to lying down causes the body to make more gas according to Medical News Today [R].
If you must lie down after eating occasionally, lie down on the left side. Laying on the left is best because the natural curve of the stomach goes left, which means foods can easily pass through the stomach [R].
Will I get heartburn when lying down after eating?
Consequently, acid reflux is often the result of lying down after eating.
If you eat late meals all of the time, this increases your risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
And indigestion lying down after a meal is a real thing.
That said, it is important to remember that certain foods also make it more likely for you to get heartburn.
Spicy foods, tomato sauces, gluten, fried foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and sugar all reduce the tone of the stomach valve. This means that these foods are more likely to cause reflux [R, R].
Additionally, an altered microbiome, or lack of probiotics, can increase your risk of heartburn too.
Eating at night increases insulin levels
One negative effect of eating at night on a regular basis is that it increases fasting insulin levels according to the British Journal of Nutrition [R].
So, try to eat the bulk of your food mid-day and early evening to reduce the odds of elevated insulin.
How long should you wait to lay down after eating?
A general rule of thumb is to wait three hours after eating to lie down and sleep.
The digestive system then has time to pass most of the food beyond the stomach at this point.
Can I eat at bedtime and still be healthy?
While eating before bed isn’t a good idea all of the time, there may be cases where bedtime eating makes sense.
For example, if you exercise moderately in the evening, healthy foods before bedtime can be metabolized better than if you are a couch potato at night.
Personally, I find that I really can’t sleep well if my stomach is growling and hungry. So, adding a light snack can help, although I try to avoid eating at bedtime if I can help it.
A better way to go about it is to eat enough dinner so you aren’t hungry late at night.
Night owls can also get away with eating later so long as they don’t graze right before bed or early in the morning as well.
Which foods are better to eat before sleep?
Sometimes, white-knuckle hunger kicks in no matter how much you want to avoid eating late at night.
In this case, having a healthy snack with some protein like leftover chicken, meat, sardines, or other fish, is a better option than most because it helps you feel fuller than carbohydrate-rich foods.
Another option is foods that have healthy fibers like an apple, avocado, or seaweed, or foods rich in chicory roots such as chicory coffee (coffee substitute).
Plus, having a healthy snack at bedtime is better for mental health than processed foods according to research published in Frontiers in Nutrition [R].
Additionally, you can try sipping on an herbal tea which can help calm and support sleep.
Are there people that benefit from eating before bed?
Certain conditions like Type 1 diabetes and glycogen storage diseases may require nighttime eating to avoid risks of low blood sugar symptoms.
As always, you should check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Is it bad to lie down after eating breakfast?
Generally speaking, it’s always best to be upright after meals and that includes breakfast.
The gravity from sitting up and standing up makes digestive functions go more smoothly and prevents the acid in your stomach from refluxing.
Even better, get some exercise after you eat to help the body even more.
Why do I always want to lie down after eating?
When you eat a big meal, the process of digestion pulls a lot of your blood supply into your gut. This can make the rest of your body and your brain feel sleepy.
If you can resist the urge and be up and moving, this will ultimately help you feel better and be less likely to gain weight from eating.
However, if you experience extreme fatigue after meals consistently, this can be a sign of an underlying health condition such as a sleep disorder, anemia, heart disease, or cardiovascular disease.
It is important to let your healthcare provider know if you feel this level of fatigue after meals.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.