The nighttime is the right time for many things: unwinding through meditation or a movie, spending quality time with family, getting lost in a good book. For some of us, though, the evening is a harbinger of a less pleasant experience: excessive gas.
Feeling bloated and gassy at night can put a damper on your plans, as well as disrupt your sleep. Here, experts share common reasons for nighttime gas, plus how to nip it in the bud.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Danielle VenHuizen, M.S., R.D.N., is a digestion-centric registered dietitian with Food Sense Nutrition. Dr. Kenneth Brown, M.D., is a gastroenterologist. Peyton Berookim, M.D., M.A., F.A.C.G., A.G.A.F., is a gastroenterologist.
Reasons for Nighttime Gas
Gas can gradually pick up steam as the day progresses, according to digestion-centric dietitian Danielle VenHuizen, M.S., R.D.N., of Food Sense Nutrition. “As a gut health dietitian, I find that having gas late in the evening or even at night is usually caused by a buildup of gas produced throughout the day,” she says.
You see, as bacteria ferment certain carbohydrates, they release gas that should normally move through our system and be expelled. Sometimes, though, this gas essentially gets ‘stuck’ in various parts of the digestive system. The result: “It’s not uncommon for clients to tell me they feel great in the morning, but that by the evening their stomach feels like a tight balloon,” says VenHuizen.
According to VenHuizen, this holdup of gas can happen when folks are transitioning to a higher-fiber diet, but more often, a disruption in the microbiome is to blame. “When pathogenic bacteria set up shop in the digestive tract, they often produce a lot of gas and in places where gas is not normally produced, causing pain and discomfort,” says VenHuizen. Pathogenic (a.k.a. bad) bacteria can also affect food’s movement within the gut and prevent gas from escaping as it normally would.
Another surprising possibility behind nighttime toots? Your sleep quality. “Studies have shown that lack of sleep can cause changes in gut motility, increase inflammation, and affect the immune system, all of which can lead to dysbiosis and an altered gut microbiome,” explains gastroenterologist Dr. Kenneth Brown, M.D. Unsurprisingly, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are particularly at risk of a vicious cycle of poor sleep and microbiome disruption. According to a large 2018 meta-analysis, 37 percent of patients with IBS also have sleep disorders.
And IBS isn’t the only health condition that could make gas show up later in the day. “Deeper issues such as small intensive bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or a stomach infection such as H. pylori, may also result in such symptoms,” notes gastroenterologist Peyton Berookim, M.D., M.A., F.A.C.G., A.G.A.F. If bloating and flatulence are becoming a regular disruption to your evenings, it’s best to mention it to your doctor.
7 Ways to Prevent Nighttime Gas
Quelling your internal airhorn might ultimately require a doctor’s visit, but it could also be as simple as making some lifestyle changes. Try these tips.
1. Identify Triggering Foods (And Stear Clear)
Ever heard of the low-FODMAP diet? This eating plan focuses on foods that contain minimal levels of a certain type of short-chain carbohydrates. VenHuizen says following its guidelines can significantly reduce nighttime gas. “High-FODMAP foods, which contain a high amount of fermentable fibers that pathogenic bacteria love, can cause a lot of gas and bloating for some people,” she says. Some high-FODMAP foods to avoid: dairy products, apples, onions, garlic, and wheat.
Low-FODMAP foods, meanwhile, include dairy-free milks, bananas, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and lean meats (among plenty of others!).
If you’re not sure which foods may be triggers for you, Berookim recommends keeping a food journal and tracking your eats and subsequent symptoms.
2. Eat Slowly and Early
Stopping flatulence in the wee hours isn’t always a matter of what you eat, but when and how you eat. Brown recommends doing your best to take the time to chew food thoroughly and enjoy meals at a leisurely pace. “Eating too quickly causes excess air swallowing, which allows more air into the digestive tract and can lead to gas and bloating,” she explains.
You may also notice a difference after moving your dinnertime up to earlier in the evening. “Eating several hours before bedtime helps in that the digestive process is not as active when we sleep,” Brown says.
3. Make Time to Move
Moving your body throughout the day has the wonderful perk of moving gas out of your system. “Staying active can help increase motility in the gut, which may help that trapped gas escape,” explains VenHuizen. So the more generally active you are, the better. As for more intense workouts, though, Berookim recommends scheduling them for earlier in the day. Exercising too close to bedtime can disrupt the rhythm of normal digestion.
4. Eat or Drink Something Acidic
Conventional wisdom says that eating acidic foods can cause acid reflux and disrupt sleep. But an orange or some tomato juice could be just the thing that squashes sleep-disturbing gas. “Sometimes adding more acidity to the stomach, which supports better digestion, can reduce gas,” VenHuizen explains. “Consider drinking some apple cider vinegar or taking a hydrochloric acid supplement before meals to help enhance digestion and reduce bloating.”
5. Stay Hydrated
Drink up! Staying hydrated is always a good idea, but it’s especially helpful when you’re fighting the battle of evening bloat. “Drinking adequate water and fluids like herbal teas aids digestion by helping break down food and moving gas and stool through the intestines more efficiently,” Brown shares.
6. Try a Supplement
Though the data on supplements that are beneficial specifically for nighttime gas is limited, there are certainly a few known to be generally helpful for the ol’ balloon belly. “Some people have success with taking digestive enzymes, peppermint, and activated charcoal,” Brown notes. Some studies have notably found peppermint oil to have similar effectiveness to over-the-counter meds for relieving flatulence.
Read More: The 8 Most Gut-Friendly Foods On The Planet
Probiotics are another possibility with promise for nighttime gas. “Probiotics help add ‘good’ bacteria to the gut and crowd out the unwanted ones, which can rebalance the gut over time and reduce gas and bloating,” VenHuizen says.
7. Give Yourself an Abdominal Massage
If gas is painful or keeping you awake at night, try giving yourself a mini massage to encourage it to move on out. “Gentle abdominal massage may help, encouraging the intestines to move and release some of the trapped gas,” says VenHuizen.
According to University of Michigan Medicine, you’ll want to start on your lower right side. Move upward in a circular motion, then straight across to your left side, and down again. It may provide enough relief to let you relax and drift back off to sleep.