Sleeping When Full: 5 Reasons Why You Should Avoid It

couple sleeping after dinner

Parents and teachers repeatedly tell kids that eating late is bad right from childhood. Yet we end up doing it anyway. This may be due to working late or having car trouble on your way home from the office.

Having dinner late is bad enough. Yet the majority of us retire to bed at the regular time due to our work commitments in the morning.

Is sleeping when full bad for your health? The answer is yes. Sleeping immediately after eating can cause problems ranging from acid reflux to indigestion, stomach ache, and insomnia.

This is why you should always try to eat early so the bulk of the digestion can take place before bedtime.

Does this mean you should go to bed on an empty stomach when hungry late at night? That is a big no. Sleeping when starving also comes with multiple side effects that can be detrimental to your health. Here is the article we wrote on sleeping when hungry.

Reasons Why You Should Avoid Sleeping When Full

As noted above, sleeping on a full stomach is a bad habit that can ruin your health. Shall we dive into the effects of eating a full meal right before bedtime?

1. Digestion Problems

One of the main problems associated with eating late at night is indigestion. Experts recommend sleeping 2-3 hours after your last meal. This is enough time for a higher percentage of the ingested food to digest.

Lying down to sleep inhibits the ability of the stomach, intestines, and other digestive organs from working efficiently. This is because food is best digested when your body is in an upright position.

Unfortunately, sleeping tilts the position of these organs which slows down the digestive process. This is the cause of stomach aches and other uncomfortable issues such as bloated stomach and gas whenever you eat late.

Also, you should note that fried foods are naturally difficult to digest. Therefore, eating a meal such as french fries, steaks, and anything deep-fried at night can upset your gastrointestinal organs even further. 

Foods containing processed sugars and artificial sweeteners may also require more time to digest. This is why you should always eat early.

2. Insomnia

Few things have the power to disturb your sleep as much as eating late at night. Did you know that the digestive organs fire up immediately any kind of food arrives in the stomach?

Well, digestion is a complicated process that takes a toll on your body especially when you go to bed on a full stomach. This can disturb the ability of the brain to relax while you’re trying to catch some sleep.

Unfortunately, quality sleep is only possible when the brain is relaxed and at peace. This is why eating late at night has been linked with insomnia.

Sleeping becomes difficult due to the gastrointestinal processes that go on throughout the night as the body tries to digest the consumed food.

This is another food for thought as you weigh up whether sleeping immediately after dinner is worth it.

3. Weight Gain

back of an overweight woman

Sleeping when full is bad for your weight. If you’ve been hitting the hay on a full tummy for a long period, that could be the reason why your weight loss efforts are never successful. But how does eating late make you gain weight?

Firstly, chowing on a full plate of calories late in the night limits the body’s ability to burn them. Remember, undertaking physical activity is the most effective way of burning calories in the body. Since sleeping makes you dormant, you can expect your body to store a higher proportion of any calories ingested as fat.

Also, studies have shown that you’re more likely to eat high-calorie diets late at night compared to other times of the day.

Additionally, late-night eaters tend to consume higher portions of food compared to those who eat earlier. Eating more means more calories which translates to more fat and hence weight gain.

4. Gastroephegal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Studies have linked sleeping on a full stomach with Gastroephegal Reflux Disease. As stated earlier, the stomach releases different types of acids to aid digestion as soon as you ingest any food.

These acids are released in large amounts for effective digestion and synthesis of the food into various nutrients.

But lying down during sleep distorts the ability of these acids to operate optimally. Since the gastrointestinal acids require an upright position for operations, they can easily relapse into the esophagus.

Unfortunately, the esophagus is not optimized for handling these acids. Thus, their presence can cause real damage to the esophageal walls, leading to various forms of discomfort.

Acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD is the term that describes the relapse of acids into the esophagus. Symptoms of the condition range from pain in the chest to an uncomfortable taste in your mouth.

Heartburn can be painful and downright annoying. In its severe form, heartburn can negatively impact your appetite due to the fear of suffering its symptoms after eating.

5. Nightmares 

Does sleeping when full cause nightmares? The answer is yes. We often get nightmares during Rapid Eye Movement sleep. Several studies have shown a correlation between eating at bedtime and nightmares.

This is why many of us experience those dreadful dreams after eating heavy meals late at night. But how does sleeping on a full stomach causes a nightmare?

A Harvard University study has revealed that waking up multiple times at night increases your chances of having scary dreams. Since eating before sleep has consistently shown sleep disruption, this is evidence that late-night sleeping can cause nightmares.

Also, eating a large Carb diet a few hours before sleep is a leading cause of night sweats and other forms of discomfort. This can lead to significant sleep disturbance and nightmares eventually.

How Many Hours After Eating Can You Sleep?

From all of the above, it is obvious that sleeping on a full tummy has nothing good to offer the body. This is why it is important to wait for several hours after eating dinner. But how long should you wait to sleep after your meal? The answer is at least 2-3 hours.

The truth is, the longer the time frame between dinner and sleep, the better. No wonder many mothers keep nagging at their kids every time they fail to eat dinner on time.

That being said, there are times when a 6 pm dinner is just not feasible. In that case, you should strive for a minimum wait time of 2 hours. This should allow the body to undergo the hardest parts of digestion so you can sleep relatively well throughout the night.

What to do When You’re Hungry In The Night

The feeling of hunger late at night is something you’ll have to deal with at one point or another. If you consistently work late then nighttime hunger can become a staple in your life.

Now we know that a heavy meal before bed is bad for your health in many ways. But what do you do when you’re hungry at night? Here are a few healthy options available to keep your health in check.

1. Drink Water

Unless you’ve been starving all day, a glass of water could do wonders for your hunger. This is especially true if you had a big meal earlier in the day. Just try to avoid drinking cold water to prevent digestion issues.

2. Eat Light 

Have you been starving for virtually the whole day? If yes, a big meal may seem very attractive. You may feel like nothing else can work for your hunger.

However, heavier meals at night come with several problems as noted earlier in this article. Often, a light snack such as a fruit is all you need to get rid of the hunger pangs and go to bed with comfort.

Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables are easy to digest and can help you sleep better.  And the fact that they contain fewer calories means a lower risk of weight gain and its related health concerns.

3. Stay Up For A Couple More Hours

lady taking a late night walk with her dog

Whether you consume junk foods such as pizza or healthy alternatives like fruits or vegetables, the body will still need to digest it. Therefore, you cannot walk away from your dinner table straight to bed.

Instead, try to stay up for a couple more hours to allow digestion to take place. If you’re up for it, a quick 15-minute walk can even speed up the digestion process and burn extra calories as well.

4. Sleep On Your Sides

Digestion is more efficient when you’re upright and moving around. However, if you cannot stay awake for one reason or another, side sleeping is the best position for effective digestion.

Left-side sleeping, in particular, improves digestion and prevents acid reflux and other negative effects. Click here to check out the article we wrote on the left-side sleeping.

Related Questions

  1. Does eating late at night cause belly fat? Not necessarily. However, studies have shown that we tend to eat more junk food during late-night meals which can lead to belly fat. So it is not so much as the time but what you eat and your level of physical activity afterward.
  2. What can I eat after 9 pm? 9 pm is pretty late which means low-calorie snacks such as blackberries, strawberries, almonds, smoothies, cream crackers, and cereals. Generally, foods with little to no processed sugars are your best bet.
  3. What should you not eat at night? You should avoid high-calorie foods such as fries, meat, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, soda, and orange juice.


Going to bed on a full stomach is a bad idea that can jeopardize your health. If you’ve been practicing it for years, that could explain why you have an expanded waistline, suffer heartburn frequently, and experience nightmares.

Eating a  light snack is always the better option even when you’re craving a big plate of junk food. If you must eat something heavy, try to wait at least 3 hours after the meal before retiring to bed.

This should have minimal effects on your ability to get a good night’s rest and prevent weight gain.


Gabriel Smith

Hello, my name is Gabriel and I LOVE to sleep. Okay, you’re right, a lot of people do like sleep. But my passion is actually not sleeping. My interest lies in the “theoretical part”. What to do before bedtime. What a good night’s sleep is. etc. In short, how to sleep well. I hope you share the same interest as me, and enjoy reading everything about sleep.

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