By Doris Obinna
Eating a meal too close to bedtime may actually harm your sleep, especially if it is a large amount of food.
As a general rule of thumb, nutritionists will tell you to wait about three hours to sleep after eating. This allows some digestion to occur and gives time for the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine.
Eating also prompts 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 bed, Medical Director of God’s Goal Hospital, Ojo, Lagos, Dr. Gabiel Omonaiye, said it is not recommended to go to bed immediately after meal: “One ought to eat the heaviest food in the morning, light meal in the afternoon and a very light one at night and usually about three hours before you go to bed. Try to put at least three hours between a meal and bedtime.
Night time heartburn
“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 night heartburn, an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest, and other gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms, such as a bitter taste in your mouth (or “burping up” food).
“GERD is a chronic condition that happens when there’s weakness in the ring of muscle (sphincter) at the lower end of the oesophagus. This weakness makes it easier for stomach acid to creep back up into the oesophagus. At night, the symptom is more likely to occur if the stomach has not fully emptied by bedtime.
“Night time heartburn can interfere with your ability to enough sleep because you have trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia).
Foods that help you sleep
“Some foods have substances in them that may enhance your sleep. For example, turkey and pork chops contain high levels of a substance called tryptophan. When it is metabolised by our bodies, tryptophan turns into serotonin and melatonin both of which play a key role in sleep.
“Other foods, like cherries, naturally contain small amounts of melatonin. Generally speaking, having a light snack before bedtime is fine and might even have some benefits.
“Also, a 2015 study in the Journal Nutrients concluded that having a small snack (150 calories or less) before bed might even be beneficial for some of the processes in your body that take place when you sleep, like muscle tissue breakdown and rebuilding and metabolic health. “Other foods can be comforting, like a warm glass of milk or tea with no caffeine. Making these part of your regular bedtime routine can help you unwind and mentally prepare for sleep.
Foods to avoid before sleeping
“When you’re planning an evening snack, avoid foods that can trigger heartburn, like spicy and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes. Alcohol, chocolate, and peppermint can also worsen heartburn and reflux.
“Alcohol can actually cause fragmented and disrupted sleep. By relaxing the muscles of the airway, alcohol can also worsen conditions like sleep apnoea (where you repeatedly stop breathing for short periods at night).
“You’ll also want to avoid coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate, which are sources of caffeine. Caffeine blocks a chemical that makes you feel sleepy (adenosine). When consumed too close to bedtime, caffeine can contribute to insomnia.
“Caffeine can also make you have to urinate more at night. Getting up to use the bathroom can interrupt your sleep. Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine and people metabolise it at different rates. You might have to experiment with the timing to figure out what time of day you should stop consuming it if you don’t want it to affect your sleep.
“The food may not digest and over time covert to fats and the person may start putting on weight. After meal at night, one is expected to wait for the meal to digest because if you lay down immediately to sleep, as part of the problem, the individual may regurgitate it and choking may happen.
“It is important to wait for few hours before going to be so that the enzymes in the stomach may have time to work on the food eaten.
“However, a study disclosed that an individual won’t gain weight simply by going to bed right after you have a meal, but the habit can be a factor in weight gain. Researchers have seen a link between later meal times and weight gain but they aren’t exactly sure why there’s a connection. It likely is down to many factors, like m1etabolism and insulin.
“Implications of going to sleep soon after eating dinner include indigestion, heart burn, digestion problems, sleep disruption, unhealthy weight gain, obesity, poor health if the practice continues and reflux of the food from the stomach into the oesophagus and at times into the nostrils.
“Give yourself about three hours between when you eat your last meal and bedtime. Having a small evening snack is usually fine. However, you’ll want to avoid caffeine and spicy or acidic foods, which can be triggers for insomnia and heartburn that could keep you up at night. You’ll also want to avoid alcohol, which can disrupt your sleep and make conditions like sleep apnoea worse.
“There is also some evidence that chronic poor sleep is linked to weight gain in the long run. Going to bed hungry can interrupt your sleep. If your blood sugar gets too low at night, your body will want you to be awake and go look for food.
“Try to put some time between beverages and bedtime, as you would with your meals. Having fluids too close to bedtime can make it more likely that you’ll need to wake up to urinate, which can disrupt your sleep. However, if you’re dehydrated, that can also negatively affect your sleep.
“Feeling like you’re ready for bed right after you eat (postprandial sleepiness) can be caused by a variety of factors. For example, fatty, sweet, foods, alcohol, and big meals can make you feel sleepy. Certain health conditions like thyroid disorders, anaemia, and diabetes can cause you to feel sleepy after you eat.”