Snooze University
Tools

3 Benefits of Going to Bed On an Empty Stomach

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Mar 07, 2022

If you’ve ever eaten shortly before sleeping when your food is still clearly being digested in your stomach, you might have had some trouble sleeping.

There’s actually quite a bit of evidence that eating before bed negatively affects sleep in most cases.

The exception is that being hungry can also make it harder to sleep.

You want somewhere in the middle. Some research has suggested that eating your last meal at least 4 hours before going to sleep is ideal.

This allows you enough time to go to bed on an empty stomach, which often comes with a few different potential benefits that we’ll go over now.

Going to Bed on an Empty Stomach Can Help You Fall Asleep Faster

The biggest benefit to not eating close to bedtime is that most people fall asleep faster.

One study compared eating a meal 4 hours before bed vs 1 hour and found (1):

The meal given 4 h before bedtime showed a significantly shortened sleep onset latency (time to get to sleep) compared with the same meal given 1 h before bedtime

The average time to get to sleep went from 9 minutes to 14.6 minutes when eating an hour before bed.

That may not sound like a lot, but it’s just the average, meaning that it will affect some people much more, and some people less.

If you already have any sleep issues, eating before bed can have a large effect on your overall sleep.

Higher Sleep Quality Which Can Lead to More Energy

Assuming you’re not too hungry, there’s some evidence that not eating at night could improve sleep quality as well.

A systematic review found that not eating dinner could be beneficial (2):

Dinner-skipping resulted in significantly reduced evening cortisol and non-significantly raised morning cortisol.

You might know cortisol as the “stress” hormone, as it rises based on how stressed your body is.

Cortisol does have beneficial effects, but it also has negative effects if it’s high at the wrong times. It can impair your ability to recover while sleeping, as cortisol suppresses the immune system and even decreases bone formation (3).

Keeps You From Overeating At Night and Helps You Eat Better

Most people are tired at night from whatever they did during the day, whether it’s work, school, or something else.

When you’re tired, you’re much more likely to make poor eating decisions.

Which of the following do you think is least likely at night?:

  • Eating 2,000 calories of chips while you watch TV
  • Ordering a pizza
  • Cutting up fresh vegetables and making a nice dip

Some people are obviously exceptions, but most of us would prefer the first 2 when we’re tired.

If you’re consistent about not going to bed on an empty stomach, you at least limit any damage of poor eating decisions made at night.

What If You Get Hungry At Night?

Let’s say you have your dinner well before going to sleep, but then start to get hungry a few hours before bed time.

What can you do?

One option is to have a small snack that’s easily digestible. For example, bananas are one of the best snacks for someone with insomnia.

Another good option is to have tea (that’s low in caffeine of course). There’s even evidence that green tea can improve insomnia, so not only will it “fill” you up a bit, but it may help you sleep even better.

You do want to be careful about drinking too much, which may cause you to wake up more frequently at night to use the toilet.

References

  1. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset
  2. A Systematic Review of Time Restricted Eating Strategies
  3. Cortisol decreases bone formation by inhibiting periosteal cell proliferation

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.