It’s common knowledge that both getting good sleep and following a healthy diet are essential for overall health. Often overlooked, though, is that there is an important relationship between sleep and nutrition.

A major part of that relationship is the link between sleep and overeating. Sleep deprivation can affect appetite and food choices, increasing the likelihood of both overeating and consuming unhealthy foods.

Overeating can affect sleep as well. Eating too much, especially when it involves heavy or spicy foods, can worsen sleep by interfering with digestion and raising the risk of heartburn. For this reason, most experts advise against eating too much and too close to bedtime.

Recognizing the bidirectional relationship between sleep and overeating can be a first step toward optimizing your diet and your sleep.

Does Lack of Sleep Cause Overeating?

Research studies have found that insufficient sleep increases overeating and unhealthy food choices. Not surprisingly, studies have also linked insufficient sleep to weight gain and a higher risk of obesity Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference .

Disruptions to normal hormone production are a driving factor behind sleep deprivation leading to overeating. Sleep plays a vital role in regulating hormone levels Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference , including the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which are integral to hunger and appetite.

Ghrelin is closely related to hunger while leptin is tied to feeling full. A lack of sleep has been found to trigger increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin Trusted Source Annals of Internal Medicine Annals of Internal Medicine’s mission is to promote excellence in medicine, enable physicians and other health care professionals to be well informed members of the medical community and society, advance standards in the conduct and reporting of medical research, and contribute to improving the health of people worldwide. See Full Reference , leading to increased hunger and appetite. This makes overeating more likely, especially since more time awake creates increased opportunities to eat Trusted Source Wiley Online Library Wiley Online Library is one of the largest and most authoritative collections of electronic journals published by Wiley, as well as a vast and growing collection of reference works and other books. See Full Reference .

Insufficient sleep also affects parts of the brain that determine how we think about food Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . In studies of people with limited sleep, brain activity is enhanced in areas that are involved in viewing food as a positive reward, making us more vulnerable to eating too much.

Even worse, these changes in the brain seem to be strongest with foods that can more easily contribute to obesity. One study found increased appetite for high-calorie foods Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference in people who didn’t get enough sleep. Similar results have been found in young children Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference and adolescents Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference , indicating that poor sleep may be a factor contributing to rising rates of childhood obesity.

Patterns of overeating can lead to weight gain, which raises the risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that causes persistent sleep interruptions. Overeating, especially at night, can disrupt sleep. As a result, a vicious cycle can emerge in which poor sleep triggers overeating that can play a role in further worsening sleep.

 

 

Does Overeating Affect Sleep?

Overeating can interfere with normal sleep. After a big meal, the body has to devote energy to the digestive process, which typically takes several hours. But digestion usually slows during sleep , putting your body’s normal sleep process at odds with the stomach’s needs for digestion. This may explain why studies have found increased sleep disruptions Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference after eating close to bedtime.

Research has found an association between eating higher quantities of calories and fat and a decreased amount of sleep Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . The effects of overeating on sleep may be exacerbated by excess intake of certain types of foods. For example, meals with low fiber and high amounts of sugar and saturated fat have been correlated with interrupted sleep Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference .

Overeating can cause discomfort, which can be a barrier to sleep. Besides making you feel too full, big meals may induce and exacerbate acid reflux, in which the resultant heartburn can make it harder to get quality sleep Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . Heartburn may be even more likely if overeating involves certain foods such as spicy foods, fatty foods and chocolate, which can cause indigestion Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . Large meals with certain foods can also disrupt sleep by increasing body temperature Trusted Source Eliserver Eliserver is a publishing company that aims to help researchers and health care professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. See Full Reference which runs counter to the body’s typical process of cooling down during sleep.

How Can You Sleep Well After Overeating?

If you’ve eaten too much but still want to get good sleep, a few tips may help:

  • Give it time: If you can, wait 3-4 hours before going to bed so that your body has time to devote to digestion.
  • Drink water: Feeling stuffed may cause you to avoid drinking water, but it’s important to stay hydrated, but avoid carbonated beverages due to the gas content.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine: Both of these can interfere with your sleep, so it’s best to avoid them if you want to rest well.
  • Try light physical activity: You don’t want to overdo it, but a short walk at a slow or moderate pace or light stretching may help you feel more comfortable as you digest.
  • Prevent heartburn: Two strategies for preventing acid reflux include elevating the head of your bed by six inches Trusted Source National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) NIDDK research creates knowledge about and treatments for diseases that are among the most chronic, costly, and consequential for patients, their families, and the Nation. See Full Reference and lying on your left side Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . If you’re worried about heartburn, these steps may help you sleep without interruption.
  • Optimize your bedroom: Eliminating potential sleep disruptions, such as from excess light or noise, may help you doze off and quickly get back to sleep if you wake up during the night after overeating.

Is It Harmful to Eat Before Bed?

It’s not just how much or what you eat; the timing of when you eat matters, too Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . Studies have found that eating within three hours of your bedtime increases the likelihood of sleep disruptions, and that risk may be even greater if you overeat at dinner. Acid reflux, which is more likely with a late dinner , can further reduce sleep quality.

Beyond its impact on your sleep, eating before bed may also contribute to weight gain Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . The body’s internal clock, known as its circadian rhythm, empowers the body to better digest food and regulate blood sugar during the day. In this way, a late dinner can negatively affect metabolism Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference , increase body fat, and heighten the risk of obesity.

Given its potential impact on sleep and weight, studies indicate that, in general, it’s preferable to consume the majority of caloric intake during the day Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference . That said, because dietary needs can vary depending on a person’s circumstances, anyone concerned about their nutrition and sleep should talk with their doctor or a nutritionist for advice that is tailored to their situation.

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