Why You Should Avoid Eating in Bed (With 1 Exception)
After a long day, climbing into bed is such a comfort. You’ve probably heard the advice to use your bed only for sleep and sex, but in recent years, all the lines about what our homes and bedrooms are for have blurred. So it’s understandable if your bed has overtaken your couch as your entertainment center and has even replaced your dinner table as a place to chill with a snack or your takeout.
“I think it’s a very common problem, especially within COVID-19 and lockdowns and working from home—the bedroom becomes the gym becomes the home office,” says Mattress Firm advisor Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist and author of “The Sleep Solution.” “And I joke that now it’s kind of the restaurant, too, where just everything is happening in this one space. But it’s not a good thing.”
Here are some compelling reasons to break the food-in-bed habit.
Digestion and sleep don’t mix
If you’re eating in bed, you may be tempted to nosh right up until it’s time for sleep, and that can be disruptive. For one thing, digestion is more effective when we’re upright. Lying down during or after eating may contribute to discomfort, such as acid reflux.
Along with digestion, eating before bed also isn’t great for getting solid rest. “Digestion tends to interfere with sleep to some degree,” Winter says. “And it can be really bad if you’re eating spicy foods or heavy, fatty foods.” He recommends not eating for at least two (but ideally three) hours before bed, if possible.
It disrupts our circadian rhythm
Our circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour cycle that dictates our mental, physical and emotional functions, helps our bodies and minds operate efficiently. It’s affected by light and other cues, and our habits can help it along or prevent it from working well. When our circadian rhythm is off, we may have trouble sleeping, feel less alert, struggle to focus or make decisions, and more.
“When we look at our sleep, the markers that we utilize for regulating or setting our circadian rhythm are very few. Exercise, social interaction, light, temperature, and eating really are the main things our brains are looking at to try to figure out where we are in time,” Winter says. “Eating right before you go to bed can be somewhat confusing to the brain, in the sense that it’s creating a time where if you’re eating at 11 every night, finishing up your food, and then going right to bed, 11 becomes dinnertime and not necessarily bedtime.”
Giving yourself time between eating and sleeping to wind down, dim the lights and shut off screens, and otherwise practice good sleep hygiene can help you feel more relaxed, leading to an easier time falling asleep as well as more efficient rest and better overall health.
It blurs what the bed is for
Teaching our brains to only associate the bed with sleep (and sex) can lead to better sleep efficiency, research suggests. For people with insomnia, for example, staying in bed when sleep is elusive can cause them to associate the bed with stress and frustration. It follows that eating in bed can cause our brains to associate the bed with food or hunger, reducing the bed’s connection to sleep.
“Mixing eating and the space where you sleep is problematic,” Winter says. “Having a change in environment and movement every day is really important to our sleep. Let’s associate the bedroom with positive feelings of sleep and not, This is where I do my accounting work, and this is where I eat dinner. It can be problematic that when you get into bed, your brain’s like, Oh, great. Lasagna. And you’re like, No, not this time. This is the time when I’m actually trying to go to sleep.”
It isn’t just nice to go to sleep in a clean bedroom that’s free from clutter, in a bed that’s made up with fresh sheets—research indicates a clean sleep environment actually can lead to better sleep.
“Think about walking into a nice hotel room, and it’s just perfect. You think there’s nothing for you to do here but turn down this perfectly made bed and sleep,” Winter says. “Compare that to a bedroom where there’s a plate with a fork on it from last night’s dinner, the bed’s not made, there’s a weird pasta stain on there. When you look at research about cleanliness, we sleep better in neat, orderly places. Even animals sleep better in places that aren’t messy and disorganized.”
Eating or drinking in bed can lead to crumbs, spills, stains, and other messes. Plus, eating in bed can leave behind food odors and even be a source of bacteria. Along with creating a less-than-optimal environment for good sleep, a messy bedroom also invites bugs and other pests, another sleep disruptor.
Though it’s best to avoid making a habit of eating in bed, there is an exception: The once-in-a-while special occasion, like breakfast in bed on your birthday.
“Those little exceptions are a lot of fun. And when they’re exceptions, it makes them even more special,” Winter notes. “Pizza in bed once a year is really fun. Pizza in bed every night means we associate the bed with eating just as much as sleeping. We always want these things to be treats and fun versus something your brain expects to be the norm.”
For those special occasions, you can minimize the mess by using a tray, choosing foods that cause less mess, laying a sheet or easily washed blanket over your regular sheets, and/or planning to wash the bedding right after you eat.