Lying Down After Eating: Is it Bad for Digestion? + Tips

Research indicates that lying down after eating may cause discomfort and lead to long-term health concerns. Let’s look at the science behind this claim.

by
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RD
— Signos
Health writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
June 22, 2023
— Updated:
June 23, 2023

Table of Contents

Living a full and busy life can sometimes leave you tight on time. You’re not alone if you’re stuck eating dinner late at night or right before bedtime. But what effects can lying down after eating have on your digestive health? Is it bad to lie down after eating?

Gravity plays a role in digestion. When you lie flat after mealtimes, stomach acid can rise and cause discomfort, especially if your medical history includes acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease. This discomfort can lead to many other issues, such as poor sleep hygiene, esophageal concerns, and weight gain.

Everyone’s nutrition needs and schedules are unique, but here’s a tip that can work for many: giving yourself enough time to digest large meals before lying down can do wonders for your health. Let’s discuss why.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more: </strong> <a href="/blog/how-to-clean-your-gut">How to Clean Your Gut: 9 Proven Ways to Improve Digestion</a>.</p>

How Does the Digestive System Work?

The digestive system is a network of essential organs designed to digest and absorb nutrients from our food. And after all is said and done, it packages up the remaining waste and sends it on its way in the form of a bowel movement.

The digestive system includes the ever-important gastrointestinal tract and biliary system. The delicious and nutritious foods we consume start at the mouth, go to the esophagus and then head over to the stomach before passing through the small and large intestines. Along the way, your liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and bile ducts also chip in to help.

Indigestion: What It Is, Symptoms, and Causes 

Indigestion, sometimes called dyspepsia, is a group of symptoms that almost always manifest as discomfort in your upper abdominal area. Since most of our digestive organs are found in the abdomen, we’ll likely feel pain in that area if they’re acting up.

Although experiences may vary between individuals, symptoms of indigestion usually occur after eating and can include the following:

Symptoms 

Early Satiety

Feeling full early in your meal can indicate that your stomach is overwhelmed and unable to digest your food effectively.

Abdominal Pain

Epigastric pain refers to pain in your central, upper abdominal region. Your stomach can be found in this area, indicating that the organ cannot digest your meal properly.

woman with abdominal pain

Bloating

An uncomfortable feeling of tightness in the upper abdomen is a sign of bloating. Bloating is often caused by excess gas, but it can be related to digestive issues.

Gas

Intestinal gas is a mix of vapors that can occur in the digestive system. When it mixes with intestinal bacteria, an unpleasant odor can develop. It can be caused by a lack or shortage of digestive enzymes or from swallowing air while eating. You may even experience burping.

Nausea

Indigestion may cause intense feelings of nausea or the urge to vomit.

Causes 

Not Chewing Well

Poor chewing can make it more challenging for your digestive system to break down your foods, causing discomfort.

Overeating

Overeating or eating too fast can cause the stomach to stretch and allow stomach acid to escape through the top.

Eating Fatty Foods

A high-fat meal and fried foods can trigger the release of more acids and enzymes for digestion, which can irritate your system.

Spicy foods

Certain types of foods may trigger indigestion. For example, food intolerances to foods like spicy foods may cause indigestion.

Smoking and Alcohol Use

Both smoking and alcohol can cause inflammation by irritating the mucosal lining of your digestive tract.

Anxiety

Research has shown a significant connection between our brains and guts, meaning one can affect the other. Thus, anxiety can cause turmoil in your gastrointestinal tract if left unattended.

Is it Bad to Lay Down After Eating? 

There is a complex relationship between the foods we eat and our sleep hygiene. While some foods may help facilitate sleep, others may interfere with it. For example, foods that contain tryptophan may help metabolize the melatonin and serotonin needed for good sleep. Conversely, foods high in fat and sugar may make it difficult to get a solid night of sleep.

Our posture also comes into play. For most of us, our bodies are most comfortable digesting food in the upright position. Thanks, gravity! Therefore, sleeping after eating may cause post-meal discomfort. In addition, ingested food may come back from the stomach, bringing stomach acid with it.

Health Risks of Lying Down After Eating

Why is it unhealthy to lie down after eating? In addition to uncomfortable symptoms, the long-term effects of lying down after eating may put you at risk for specific health issues:

Higher Chance of Developing Acid Reflux/GERD 

Lying down soon after a meal can increase the likelihood of developing acid reflux or GERD. Laying flat after eating can make it easier for stomach contents to return to your esophagus. This can lead to a rather uncomfortable burning sensation, a bitter taste in your mouth, and even heartburn.

May Contribute to Weight Gain

While eating right before bed will not directly cause you to gain weight, research has connected the habit to weight gain over time. This is because meal timing may influence metabolism and insulin, affecting your overall daily calorie intake.1

Higher risk of Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett’s Esophagus is characterized by a change in the tissue lining of your esophagus, making the esophageal cells resemble intestinal cells. It can be triggered by chronic GERD, a common symptom of lying down after eating.2

Does Lying Down After Eating Make You Fat?

Lying down after eating does not directly contribute to weight gain. However, research has shown that meal timing can play a role in your overall calorie intake, which can contribute to changes in weight.

A 2019 study examined the effects of meal timing and its influence on healthy adults with overweight or obesity.3 It found that the alignment of sleep and meals may influence your energy balance by affecting your food choices.

How Long Should You Wait to Lay Down After Eating

The food you eat can take several hours to travel from your stomach to your small intestine, and the process gets significantly more complicated when you’re lying flat. So, how long should we wait before lying down after eating?

Research points to at least three hours between mealtimes and laying flat if you have a history of GERD.4 However, it’s important to remember that all bodies are unique and live on different schedules. So find a routine that works for your needs.

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What Other Things to Avoid After Eating 

Lying down isn’t the only thing to consider when planning your meals.

Intense Exercise

Strenuous exercise can make it difficult for your body to digest your food. This is because your body’s resources are directed to your exercising muscles instead of your digestive tract. As a result, you may experience cramping, nausea, or even diarrhea during your workout.

Drinking Too Much Water

Sipping water throughout your meal can be an efficient way to stay hydrated. But gulping large amounts of water after your meal may dilute stomach juices and make it difficult to digest your foods fully.

Taking Showers 

A warm shower can increase your body temperature, directing blood flow to your skin and away from your digestive processes. As a result, you may notice digestion slow significantly, causing symptoms such as bloating and gas.

Going to Sleep 

Sleeping soon after your mealtimes can slow digestion and allow stomach acid to inch back up to your esophagus. You may also experience bloating and other discomforts during the night, poorly affecting your sleep quality.

Loosening the Belt

If you need to loosen your waistband after eating, you may have eaten more than your system can handle in one sitting. As a result, the relief you feel after loosening your belt may be misleading, and you may continue to eat beyond your needs.

Taking a Walk Immediately

Rushing to walk after meals can contribute to indigestion and reflux symptoms. While walking can help improve metabolism and stretch your muscles, some experts recommend waiting at least 10 minutes before hitting the pavement.

10 Best Foods to Eat and to Avoid Before Bed

We all respond to foods differently. However, some foods boast a positive relationship with sleep, while others do not. Let’s review some of the best foods to eat before bed and some foods we should limit or avoid at bedtime. 

Foods to Eat 

Almonds 

Almonds are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients like magnesium, which have been linked to better sleep patterns.5

Turkey Meat 

When most of us think of turkey, we often think of a post-Thanksgiving dinner nap. Turkey is rich in tryptophan, which can improve sleep latency and quality.6

Chamomile Tea 

Chamomile tea is a popular herbal tea that has often been associated with improved sleeping patterns. Extensive research has confirmed a connection between chamomile and improved sleep quality.7

Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice offers a list of purported health benefits, including its role in relieving insomnia. In addition, tart cherry juice contains melatonin, which can help promote sleepiness.8

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, like tuna and mackerel, are rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are essential in the regulation of serotonin, thus playing a significant role in sleep regulation.9

Walnuts

Walnuts contain melatonin, which can help support sleep hygiene.10

healthy delicious walnuts

Foods to Avoid 

Alcohol 

While alcohol may initially make you sleepy, those effects typically wear off quickly. Alcohol can cause disrupted and fragmented sleep.

Heavy Foods

Heavy foods, like foods high in fat, can take longer to digest. As a result, you may experience acid reflux, bloating, nausea, and other digestive symptoms if eaten right before bedtime.

Caffeine

Caffeine intake can block adenosine, a chemical that makes you sleepy. It may also make you urinate more during the night, interrupting your restful sleep.11

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods may trigger heartburn, making getting a restful night’s sleep more challenging.

4 Things You Can Try to Prevent the Side Effects of Lying Down After Eating

Prioritize Sleep Quality and Length 

Research has shown a connection between sleep deprivation and increased appetite. Your hormone production may change when you fall short of your sleep needs. For example, you may experience increased ghrelin and decreased leptin levels, making you more prone to hunger and less likely to feel full.12

Meal Prep and Planning

Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time can streamline your day and prevent late-night dining. For example, if your dinner is prepped and waiting for you in the fridge, you can start your dinner soon after getting home from work. The sooner you eat, the sooner you can hit the sheets.

Avoid Foods That Trigger Acid Reflux

We all respond to foods differently. So keep track of what foods cause acid reflux and try to avoid them before bedtime.

Correct Your Sleeping Posture

Adjusting your sleeping position may help mitigate acid reflux symptoms. Some experts suggest sleeping at an incline or on your left side. However, find what works best for you unless otherwise directed by your doctor.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading: </strong> <a href="/blog/improving-sleep-quality-how-to-not-wake-up-tired">Improving Sleep Quality: How to Not Wake Up Tired</a>.</p>

How to Treat Indigestion

Healthy eating habits go a long way in preventing and treating indigestion. Consider eating four to six small meals daily instead of three large meals to avoid overwhelming your digestive system.

Furthermore, finding ways to manage your stress and anxiety may also help prevent symptoms of GERD and other forms of indigestion. Regular physical activity, weight maintenance, and proper sleep hygiene may all help treat indigestion and maintain a healthy digestive system.

And, of course, it’s essential to seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional, such as a gastroenterologist, if you have questions about your digestion needs.

Learn More About Healthy Habits and Nutrition with Signos’ Expert Advice.

Being mindful of well-balanced living and nutrition habits can significantly impact our overall health. Signos can improve health and support those healthy habits by providing real-time data, giving insight into how your body responds to the foods you eat. Knowledge is power, after all!

Still curious? Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz, and learn more about nutrition and healthy habits on the Signos blog!

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References

  1. Reid, K. J., Baron, K. G., & Zee, P. C. (2014). Meal timing influences daily caloric intake in healthy adults. Nutrition research (New York, N.Y.), 34(11), 930–935. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2014.09.010
  2. professional, C. C. medical. (2022, June 23). Barrett’s Esophagus: What is it, symptoms, treatment & tests. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14432-barretts-esophagus
  3. St-Onge, M. P., Pizinger, T., Kovtun, K., & RoyChoudhury, A. (2019). Sleep and meal timing influence food intake and its hormonal regulation in healthy adults with overweight/obesity. European journal of clinical nutrition, 72(Suppl 1), 76–82. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-018-0312-x
  4. Fujiwara, Y., Machida, A., Watanabe, Y., Shiba, M., Tominaga, K., Watanabe, T., Oshitani, N., Higuchi, K., & Arakawa, T. (2005). Association between dinner-to-bed time and gastro-esophageal reflux disease. The American journal of gastroenterology, 100(12), 2633–2636. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.00354.x
  5. Zeng, Y., Yang, J., Du, J., Pu, X., Yang, X., Yang, S., & Yang, T. (2014). Strategies of Functional Foods Promote Sleep in Human Being. Current signal transduction therapy, 9(3), 148–155. https://doi.org/10.2174/1574362410666150205165504
  6. Halson S. L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S13–S23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0147-0
  7. Hieu, T. H., Dibas, M., Surya Dila, K. A., Sherif, N. A., Hashmi, M. U., Mahmoud, M., Trang, N. T. T., Abdullah, L., Nghia, T. L. B., Y, M. N., Hirayama, K., & Huy, N. T. (2019). Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials and quasi-randomized trials. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 33(6), 1604–1615. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6349
  8. Zeng, Y., Yang, J., Du, J., Pu, X., Yang, X., Yang, S., & Yang, T. (2014). Strategies of Functional Foods Promote Sleep in Human Being. Current signal transduction therapy, 9(3), 148–155. https://doi.org/10.2174/1574362410666150205165504
  9. St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(5), 938–949. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012336
  10. Chauhan, A., & Chauhan, V. (2020). Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health. Nutrients, 12(2), 550. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12020550
  11. Salamone, J. D., & Correa, M. (2018). Caffeine and Selective Adenosine Receptor Antagonists as New Therapeutic Tools for the Motivational Symptoms of Depression. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00526
  12. Can overeating cause sleep disturbances?. Sleep Foundation. (2022, April 19). https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/sleep-and-overeating#:~:text=A%20lack%20of%20sleep%20has,increased%20opportunities%20to%20eat4.

About the author

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a registered dietitian nutritionist with several years of experience working in the clinical setting. Once a track and field athlete on a competitive stage, she now finds joy in combining her passions as a health writer to help people embrace their wellness through nutrition and fitness.

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