It makes sense that digestive problems, such as heartburn, indigestion, and nausea, can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. But did you know that the quality of your sleep also affects your digestion?
Studies have shown that many patients with irritable bowel syndrome and “sensitive stomach” experience increased symptoms the morning after a restless night.
Why? In part it’s because digestion, absorption and assimilation of our food is a process that requires a great deal of energy. Adequate, restful sleep ensures that your body has that energy available throughout the day.
Lack of sleep also makes us more susceptible to stress, which can significantly influence digestive symptoms. But that’s not all. When we’re tired, we tend to crave things that provide quick energy, like sugar and caffeine, both of which can further irritate the digestive tract.
What can you do? The best way to deal with the problem is to resolve or reduce the underlying issues that are causing the sleep disturbances, such as heartburn, nausea, or the discomfort associated with chronic constipation.
Heartburn, Acid Reflux and Indigestion
Lying down for bed too soon after eating can cause heartburn
and acid reflux. Indigestion typically happens from overeating, eating too fast or eating foods high in fat
. You should give your body three or four hours to digest your food before you go to bed. Eat smaller meals and stick to foods that digest more quickly. Also, try sleeping with more pillows to prop you up so that your upper body is at an incline. This way, your digestive juices will flow downward instead of into the oesophagus. If you’re getting acid reflux
, avoid acidic foods
before bed, including citrus fruit, tomatoes and spicy foods.
Eating at Night for Easy Digestion
To avoid heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion
at night and prevent potential bloating in the morning, eat foods that are quicker and easier to digest. Fatty foods sit in the stomach for hours after you eat them. These include fried foods and fat-rich desserts like ice cream. Foods high in protein, such as red meat
, also digest slowly. The other type of food that takes a long time to digest are foods high in fibre, such as vegetables and whole grains.
Eating to Promote Sleepiness
If you have difficulty falling asleep when you eat before bed, avoid caffeine and stick to foods that increase serotonin levels
. Caffeine keeps you awake by stimulating your nervous system. Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine, and coffee, tea and soda contain higher amounts. Serotonin is a hormone that promotes sleepiness. When you combine foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan with carbohydrates, you get a natural sedative effect because the body increases serotonin production. Some tryptophan-rich foods include spinach, halibut and egg whites.
Meals and Snacks before Bed
Some foods that will increase serotonin
production to help promote sleepiness at night include dairy products and popcorn. Choose foods low in fibre, such as meat, dairy products, refined grains and fruit, especially if you’re having a heavier meal before bed. Since fat also takes longer to digest, opt for lean meats, avoid red meat and choose fat-free or reduced-fat dairy.
You know that caffeine can interfere with sleep, but did you know that sugar can do the same due to swings in blood sugar
? For those with irregular digestion
, nocturnal hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar
that occurs at night) can contribute to disrupted sleep. Limiting your total intake of sugar
throughout the day can help.
Sleeping on your left side has been found to reduce heartburn and support overall digestion. Sleeping on the stomach is considered the worst position for digestion.
If your sleep is being compromised by digestive symptoms caused by gastroparesis, irritable bowel syndrome or functional dyspepsia
, schedule an appointment with a qualified gastroenterologist