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Can eating late cause nightmares?

Many people wonder if eating late at night can lead to nightmares or disturb sleep quality. There are a few reasons why late night snacking may be linked to bad dreams or poor sleep. In this article, we’ll explore the evidence behind this common belief and provide some diet tips for better sleep.

Why do people think late night eating causes nightmares?

Here are some of the reasons this belief is common:

  • Eating a heavy meal late can cause indigestion, acid reflux, and stomach upset which may disrupt sleep.
  • Eating sugary or fatty foods before bed may cause energy level fluctuations and blood sugar changes leading to nightmares or restless sleep.
  • Eating too close to bedtime doesn’t allow proper time for digestion before lying down, which may cause discomfort.
  • Late night eating patterns may lead to weight gain and associated health issues, negatively impacting sleep.

Although these concerns are valid, the evidence around whether late night eating directly impacts nightmares is mixed. Some key considerations around the timing of eating are reviewed below.

Does eating late at night disturb sleep?

There is some research showing links between eating times, sleep quality, and dreams. Here is an overview of what the science says:

Timing of eating and sleep cycles

Our bodies have natural circadian rhythms that control cycles of being awake versus asleep. Eating late at night may disrupt these normal biological patterns.

Specifically, the timing of eating patterns can alter the body’s metabolism, hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin, and digestive cycles in ways that make it harder to fall and stay asleep. Over time, this may lead to sleep deprivation.

Fatty foods and sleep

In one study, researchers found that eating more saturated fat at lunchtime was associated with lighter, less restorative slow wave sleep patterns. However, the effect of high-fat nighttime snacks was not evaluated in this study.

Spicy foods before bed

Spicy foods eaten close to bed have also been implicated in disturbances like heartburn, which could wake a person up. One study found higher rates of bad dreams after consuming tabasco sauce, but more evidence is needed.

Sugary foods

While sugar may give a burst of energy, it also causes blood sugar ups and downs that can disrupt sleep cycles and lead to restless sleep. One study found a higher incidence of nightmares after consuming sugar, honey, and sucrose.

Meal timing overall

Beyond individual foods, the timing of the whole meal matters. One study found that eating later in the day was associated with more difficulty falling asleep, worse sleep quality, and increased nightmares. Participants who ate before 7 pm slept better.

So in summary, scientific evidence indicates that eating late, especially consuming fatty, spicy, or sugary foods close to bedtime has the potential to decrease sleep quality and increase disturbing dreams in some people. But more research is needed to directly confirm this link.

Tips for eating better before bed

Based on the evidence, here are some tips for healthy eating patterns to promote good sleep:

Don’t go to bed hungry

Being overly hungry at bedtime can also disrupt sleep. A light snack before bed may help you sleep. Include carbohydrates, dairy, or proteins like yogurt, milk, crackers, or whole grain cereal.

Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime

Eat larger meals at least 2-3 hours before bed to allow time for digestion before lying down.

Limit sugary foods before bedtime

While milk and whole grains have natural sugars, limit added sugars like chocolate, honey, desserts, and sweetened beverages which may impair sleep quality.

Reduce fatty, spicy, or acidic foods before bed

Avoid foods like chips, buttery popcorn, spicy dishes, and citrus which can cause digestive issues that disturb sleep when eaten close to bedtime.

Stay hydrated

Drink water before bed instead of sweetened drinks. Dehydration and thirst can also disrupt sleep. But don’t overdo fluids close to bedtime.

Watch caffeine intake

Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause sleep problems, so avoid coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate late in the day.

Following an evening routine and keeping bedtime regular also helps promote restful sleep. Pay attention to how different foods affect your sleep quality and adjust your habits accordingly.


To summarize key points:

  • There is some evidence linking nightmares and poor sleep to eating late meals, especially of fatty, sugary, or spicy foods.
  • Eating large amounts close to bedtime may be more disruptive than a small, healthy snack.
  • Practices like staying hydrated, limiting caffeine, and not going to bed excessively hungry or full can improve sleep quality.
  • More research is needed to directly prove that eating late causes nightmares or restless sleep.
  • Pay attention to your own sleep patterns and adjust evening meals accordingly.

In general, allowing 2-3 hours for digestion and avoiding large, heavy meals, excessive sugars, and certain spicy or acidic foods before bed can help minimize potential digestion issues and sleep disruptions. But dietary needs are individual, so observe what works for your body. If digestive issues or nightmares persist, check with a doctor.


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