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Sometimes a quick snooze is just what you need after indulging in a big meal, but is lying down after eating a good idea? Probably not. From heartburn and indigestion to more persistent problems, lying down after eating can result in several consequences.

Here, we’ll take a look at how the digestive system works, what happens when you lay down after eating, and how you can prevent uncomfortable symptoms. Read on for a comprehensive overview on the topic or use the links below to jump ahead to the section you’re most interested in.

  1. More likely to experience acid reflux/GERD symptoms
  2. May accelerate weight gain
  3. Increased risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer
  4. Poor sleep quality

What Happens When You Lay Down After Eating

Whether you like taking a nap after a big brunch or have a penchant for the midnight munchies, catching some zzz’s after a meal can be tempting. But should you lay down after eating? Research has shown that it may not be such a good idea.

According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, lying down after eating can contribute to a number of health issues, including:

  • Increased weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Acid reflux/GERD
  • Risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer

Before we take a look at these health concerns in more detail, let’s take a look at why we’re tempted to fall asleep after eating in the first place.

Why do I always want to lay down after eating?

Lying down after eating can expose your body to a number of digestive consequences and health risks in general. But why do we want to lay down after eating at all? According to Medical News Today, there are several factors that may cause you to feel tired after eating:

  • What you eat:Protein and carbohydrate-rich foods tend to make you feel tired after eating. Some researchers attribute this to the fact that the body amplifies serotonin production after eating these types of foods, and in turn, can make you feel drowsy and unmotivated.

Additionally, foods that contain tryptophan, like turkey, spinach, eggs, cheese, milk, and other protein-dense foods, can also cause you to feel lethargic.

  • How much you eat:When you eat, your blood sugar rises, and as a result, your energy levels can start to plateau, especially after eating large meals. If you’ve ever enjoyed a large lunch and felt like your productivity levels crashed shortly after, it could be due in part to the size of your meal.

To minimize the sleepy feeling you get after eating, you may consider:

  • Eating smaller bites throughout the day, rather than large meals
  • Going for a walk after eating to allow your body to digest
  • Avoid drinking alcohol with meals
  • Improve the quality of your sleep

We’ll discuss these tips and more in more detail a little later on in this post.

Risks of Lying Down After Eating

So, why is it bad to lay down after eating? Let’s take a closer look at some of the potential risks associated with lying down after eating.

1. More likely to experience acid reflux/GERD symptoms

If you have acid reflux when standing up, gravity and saliva will naturally return the acid to your stomach. This rapid return generally shortens your symptoms and decreases the risk of acid damage to the fragile lining of your esophagus caused by acid exposure. When you lay down, though, the interference of gravity that eliminates reflux symptoms while you're upright no longer applies. This is why many individuals report that their acid reflux symptoms worsen at night.

Waiting a few hours before lying down after a meal can promote better digestion and reduce the likelihood that you’ll experience acid reflux symptoms.

2. May accelerate weight gain

When you eat more calories than you lose, your body gains weight. This is valid regardless of when you eat. If you lay down right after eating, your body may not have a chance to burn off those calories. Eating a huge meal and then collapsing on the sofa can be just as problematic. Eating a light dinner before sleeping, or planning your meal well before bedtime, helps the body work off those extra calories.

Risks of lying down after eating infographic

3. Increased risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer

Barrett's esophagus is a disorder caused by chronic and/or untreated acid reflux. Barrett's esophagus can occur when the cells that line the lower esophagus shift as a consequence of prolonged stomach acid exposure.

4. Poor sleep quality

In addition to the serious physiological challenges that may arise, lying down after eating can simply be downright uncomfortable. And discomfort while you’re sleeping often leads to poor sleep quality. If sleep quality issues go untreated, they can snowball into other physical and mental health issues; afterall, sleep is essential  to maintaining your overall well-being.

Tips to Avoid the Negative Effects of Lying Down After Eating

If you tend to get tired after meals but don’t want to lay down because of the potential risks of lying down after eating, consider these 5 tips.

1. Improve the length and quality of your sleep

Research has shown that sleep deprivation and an increased appetite may be closely related. When you get insufficient sleep, regular hormone production can change. In this case, ghrelin and leptin are the two hormones most affected by lack of sleep.

Ghrelin is linked to hunger, while leptin is linked to fullness. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to increased ghrelin levels and decreased leptin levels, resulting in increased hunger and appetite. Overeating is most likely a result of this, particularly because more time awake means more chances to eat.

Improving the length and quality of your sleep can help ensure that your body gets the amount of rest it needs—between 7 and 9 hours for most adults.

2. Plan meals ahead of time

One way to avoid lying down after eating is to plan your meal times well before you go to bed. A study published by the American Journal of Gastroenterology recommends scheduling at least 3 hours between your dinner and bedtime.

3. Avoid acid reflux trigger foods

Lying down after eating can exacerbate your acid reflux symptoms, but it’s not the only offender. Certain foods are more likely to trigger acid reflux symptoms than others. If you deal with heartburn on a regular basis, you may want to avoid triggering foods, especially before bedtime.

Some foods to avoid are:

  • Tomato-based foods
  • Citrus fruit
  • Fatty, fried foods
  • Spicy food
  • Alcohol

 Tips to avoid risks of lying down after eating infographic

4. Choose healthy bedtime snacks

If you must eat before bedtime, try to opt for healthier snacks that are less likely to activate your acid reflux symptoms. Balanced snacks such as blueberries, nut butter, warm milk and honey, and low-fat yogurt with granola can be better choices for eating before bedtime.

5. Adjust your sleeping posture

One way to mitigate acid reflux symptoms while you're sleeping, is to adjust the position you sleep in. Numerous studies have shown that sleeping at an incline on your left side can prevent acid from refluxing while you’re sleeping. When you’re sleeping on your back, stomach, or right side, stomach acid can rise above the level of the esophagus and enter your esophagus, causing heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms. The MedCline Reflux Relief System allows you to sleep on an incline on your left side, which is considered the best sleeping posture for acid reflux.

How MedCline’s Reflux Relief System Can Help

Not lying down after eating is one way to prevent acid reflux flare ups, but for many, symptoms persist whether or not they eat right before bedtime. If you struggle with nighttime acid reflux, MedCline’s Reflux Relief System may be the solution for you.

Our patented three-component system helps you comfortably achieve the physician-recommended position for sleeping with acid reflux: at an incline on your left side.

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