You might wonder, how does eating affect sleep? If you chow down too soon before going to bed it can cause heartburn and acid reflux. Indigestion often happens from overeating, eating too fast, or eating foods high in fat. Try to give your body enough time to fully digest your food before sleeping. Eating smaller meals and sticking to foods that digest more quickly can help.
The digestion process starts with ingestion. When you take in food, it gets physically broken down into smaller pieces by your teeth. Your salivary glands are triggered and saliva is released to moisten and lubricate the food.
This is where the fun begins. Your swallowing kicks in and moves the food from your mouth into your esophagus. Contractions from a muscle called the peristalsis transports the food down this tube and into another, more familiar muscle, the stomach.
Your stomach churns your food and mixes it with naturally produced bodily chemicals. Gastric juices, acidic fluids, and enzymes breakdown your food at a molecular level and turns it into a creamy paste called chyme.
At the bottom of your stomach, there’s a little gateway called the pyloric sphincter which control the entry of the chyme into your intestine.
At the start of your small intestine, fluids lubricate the chyme and neutralize its acidity. Enzymes further break the chyme down and digest the proteins, fatty acids, and carbohydrates present. These smaller molecules are then able to absorbed by the body into the bloodstream.
After all the useful stuff, like vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, are absorbed from the food, what’s left are watery, indigestible components of the food. Those components are passed into the large intestines.
The large intestines then extract water and electrolytes from the indigestible food matter. And then send it further down the tube. Which sends a response for your body to head to the bathroom.
You shouldn’t eat heavy meals before bed, but if you need to eat right before you sleep then there are a couple of foods in particular you may want to avoid.
The foods with the longest time to digest are bacon, beef, lamb, whole milk hard cheese, and nuts. These foods take an average of about 4 hours for your body to digest.
The digestion process still occurs even when asleep. Which means our digestive fluids and the acids in our stomach are active. So when you lie down to sleep after eating, those acids and the food press up against the bottom of your esophagus, putting you at risk to feel heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion.
If you do decide to eat before bed, you would want to eat foods that digest quickly and easily to lower the risk of encountering those issues: such as eggs, seafood, vegetables and fruits.
This infographic represents the time it takes various foods to empty from the stomach. This does not represent the full digestion cycle (which often takes between 24–72 hours; here’s more information on that). Like almost anything related to health, these times will vary significantly based on age, gender, the unique capabilities of your digestive tract, and a host of other factors. The data sources for this graphic come from fitness websites, not peer-reviewed scientific journals, so take this with a grain of salt (which will take approximately 13.6 minutes to digest…).