I Confess—I Broke My Own Rule

I admit it—I broke my own rule. I had apple pie just before going to bed Sunday night. My 6 year old son and I made apple pie from scratch. We made two pies—one for the family and one for our friends that were coming over that evening. We waited patiently as it cooled after taking it out of the oven. My two boys were salivating and eying it all evening. When it was eventually served, it was a hit. But I literally didn’t have time to taste my own pie, since I was too busy making arrangements for our guests. Later that evening, after our guests had left and we finished cleaning up, I just had to have a slice of my pie. I knew that I was going to turn in to go to sleep within 30 minutes, but I still had to eat it. The next day, I paid the price.


One of the most common pieces of advice that I give is that you should try not to eat within 3-4 hours of bedtime. There are lots of explanations for why this can lead to weight gain and poor sleep. One such explanation is that having food in your stomach diverts energy and blood to the stomach, depriving the rest of the body the energy needed to rest and regenerate. Another is that it slows down your metabolism. What most people (and doctors) don’t realize is that the more juices you have in your stomach when you go to sleep, the more likely it’ll come up into your throat, leading to poor sleep. 


As mentioned in my sleep-breathing paradigm (in my book, Sleep, Interrupted), all modern humans stop breathing once in a while when sleeping, due to our unique upper airway anatomy and our ability to talk. Muscle relaxation during deep sleep leads to these partial to total obstructions. If these episodes happen very often, for longer periods, then this is what we describe in medicine as obstructive sleep apnea. But obstructive sleep apnea is not something you develop suddenly in your 50s or 60s. All of us have minor variations of it at certain times in our lives (during colds, when we gain weight, or during pregnancy for women). All of us are on a continuum.


Once you stop breathing (but before you wake up and turn over), a vacuum effect is created in your throat, which can literally suction up your normal stomach juices into your throat. This not only causes you to wake up from deep to light sleep, but also causes the all-too-common symptoms of post-nasal drip, throat clearing, chronic cough and hoarseness, usually worse in the morning.


When I woke up in the morning the night after I ate my apple pie, my throat was a little sore, but what really got my attention was the fact that I felt like I only slept for 5 hours, rather than the 7 that I got that night. I was also more tired than usual all day long.


It’s not too surprising that sleep length, sleep efficiency, energy, appetite, and weight loss are all directly or indirectly connected. Yesterday, I saw a child in the office who stated that his sleep quality improved dramatically once he stopped eating ice cream before bedtime.


If any of you eat close to bedtime, and don’t sleep well are tired during the day, I challenge you to make it a regular habit to eat earlier for the next 4 weeks. Then let me know on this blog when you feel better. I’m confident that you’ll sleep better and feel better. 


By the way, if you want the recipe for my apple pie, just let me know. It’s from a Mrs. Fields recipe book.


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One thought on “I Confess—I Broke My Own Rule

  1. My husband and I used to often suffer from poor sleep after eating very starchy foods (like pasta, bread, or dare I say, apple pie). We used a lot of OTC antacid in the past (I used to bake a lot and also made homemade pasta). My husband used to regularly go through a Costco-sized box of Alka-Seltzer. For years I thought it was rich food that caused the nighttime discomfort but I was wrong. Fat in our dinner or dessert wasn’t the problem at all.

    In early 2004 we dropped our carb intake to lose some weight (and control BG for me), and the one of the ‘side effects’ was that middle of the night heartburn rarely occurred anymore. Gassiness and bloat also became rare, except on the rare occasions we dine out and indulged in starchy wheat foods during a long social dinner evening. I can always tell if my husband indulges in bread or a pastry dessert when he dines out for a business dinner – the gassiness returns in an obvious way (and he doesn’t sleep well as a result, either).

    So our family has gone wheat-free, and if you remember the old Alka Seltzer advertisement jingle, “oh, what a relief it is”. I don’t think I’ve purchased any antacid products for our household in over 5 years.