Is there anything worse than making it to the end of a long day and, just as you're ready to relax, you realize you feel uncomfortably bloated?
There are plenty of reasons you might feel bloated. But first, it's helpful to understand exactly what bloating is: trapped air in your gastrointestinal (GI) system.
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"Your GI system is like a long muscular tube with many valves and sphincters along its tract that keep foods moving in the right direction (most of the time)," Roger E. Adams, PhD, personal trainer and doctor of nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Sometimes, if we swallow air — like gulping foods or liquids quickly, or drinking carbonated beverages — it can get trapped between these valves and sphincters and cause bloating, which can manifest as abdominal distention, pain, pressure and even heartburn."
Sometimes bloating isn't caused by air we take in, but rather from gases produced by the stomach during the digestive process, says Scott David Lippe, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, New Jersey and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Rutgers Medical School.
"Some people have an imbalance of bacteria in their bodies, which can result in some food and sugars feeding the bacteria and creating even more gassiness," he says.
The good news is that there are numerous lifestyle changes you can make to reduce nighttime bloating — and even prevent it from happening in the first place.
Here are some of the most common reasons why you might feel bloated at the end of the day and what you can do about it.
1. You're Eating Dinner Too Close to Bedtime
After you eat a meal, your body needs time to digest. It can take several hours for the food to empty from your GI tract, notes one April 2014 study in Neurogastroenterology and Motility, especially if that meal was on the larger side and was particularly fatty.
"If we eat late and then head to bed, this may cause some maldigestion, as stomach acid can creep into our esophagus and cause heartburn and burping," Adams says. "As foods are digested while we sleep, the inactivity of our body may delay digestion a bit. This can increase the gases produced during digestion and cause nighttime or early morning bloating."
Fix it: The most obvious fix? Do your best to ensure you have ample time between dinner and lights out, so your body can comfortably digest. Sitting upright after a meal for at least two hours before getting under the covers can help reduce abdominal distention (like bloating), says Keri Gans, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.
You'll also want to make sure you include some physical movement into your day. One of the best ways to speed up digestion is through exercise. In fact, physical activity may even improve symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), per a January 2015 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
2. You're Eating Too Much for Dinner
If you eat your largest meal of the day in the evening hours, you might be ingesting more calories overall, which could potentially lead to weight problems and bloating, per an April 2015 study in Nutrition.
"Eating a large meal at night is a recipe for feeling uncomfortable," says Rusha Modi, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California. "At night, the natural function of the circadian rhythm slows down our gut's ability to move internal contents, like food and waste."
When this happens, coupled with a large meal, it's quite common to feel bloated, he says.
Fix it: To avoid filling your plate to the brim during the evening hours, Gans recommends not skipping any meals throughout the day.
If you find yourself ravenous at dinner, she also suggests eating a late-afternoon snack, so you're better able to control portion sizes later on in the evening.
3. You’re Eating Your Veggies Raw
While raw veggies can be very healthy and packed with nutrients, Adams warns that they take longer and are more difficult to digest than other foods.
"Eating them at night, like in a salad, can lead to lots of bloating in the lower small intestine, which is usually the most painful or uncomfortable area to experience bloating," he says.
Fix it: Adams recommends cutting back on raw veggies in the afternoon and evening hours or cooking them so they cause less bloat at the end of the day.
4. You're Drinking Lots of Liquids With Your Meal
While it is tempting to drink a lot of fluids while eating, especially if your food is particularly salty, Adams says doing so can cause quite a bit of stomach distention.
"Remember, your stomach can only hold so much, and liquids can fill it up quickly, which can delay digestion or simply cause an uncomfortable feeling in the evening," he says. "Additionally, if these liquids have carbonation, like beer or soda, this adds to the air in your stomach and you will have quick bloating for sure."
Fix it: An easy remedy Adams recommends is cutting back on liquids while having your evening meal (rather, make sure you get enough throughout the day), and avoiding carbonated beverages late in the day.
5. Your Microbiome Is Out of Balance
The microbiome, which is located in the gut, houses trillions of bacteria, according to February 2013 research in Nutrition Reviews.
Certain foods we eat, including processed meats, red meat, dairy products and sweets, can disrupt the balance of bacteria in our microbiome, leading to more "bad" than "good," Gans says, which can lead to bloating.
Fix it: "Adding fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso and sauerkraut, may help balance your microbiome," Gans says, although she admits these foods can be difficult to fit into your everyday diet, especially for those who don't enjoy them.
If, for whatever reason, fermented foods aren't in the cards for you, Gans suggests taking a postbiotic, like EpiCor, a fermentate ingredient made from plant materials, to help balance your gut bugs.
- Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: "How to assess regional and whole gut transit time with wireless motility capsule"
- WJG: "Intervention to increase physical activity in irritable bowel syndrome shows long-term positive effects"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Defining the Human Microbiome"
- Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology: "Use of probiotics in gastrointestinal disorders: what to recommend?"
- Nutrition: "The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.