Here's Why You Have So Much Gas at Night
If you notice your gas is at its worst before bed, you're not alone. Here, gastroenterologists and dietitians explain why it's so common—and what you can do to keep your nighttime gas under control.
Let's be real: Gas is always super embarrassing-and uncomfortable. And maybe you've noticed that it gets really bad when you finally lie down for bed at night, which can keep you from falling asleep (or you know, engaging in other sexy pre-bed activities).
Rest assured: It's totally normal and more common to happen at the end of your day, according to gastroenterologists and dietitians.
Keep reading to find out why-and what you can do to keep your nighttime gas under control.
Your body is actually built to be super gassy at night.
First, you should understand how your body's digestive tract works to digest food. "The healthy bacteria that live along our intestinal tract (to help us digest food) create gas all day and throughout the night, even during our sleep," says Christine Lee, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Unsurprisingly, the largest volumes of gas are produced after meals. So if dinner is your largest meal of your day, it could also be the reason your gas is worse.
But even if you eat a super-light dinner, there's another reason your gas may be worse at night. "At night, the bacteria in the gut has had all day to ferment what you've eaten," says Libby Mills, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. From ingestion to gas formation, the digestion process may take approximately six hours in a normal gut. Thus, you're likely to experience more gas later in the day because your lunch (and anything else you've eaten in the last six hours) is finishing being digested.
In other words, "It has more to do with the accumulation of gas rather than the actual rate of gas production," says Dr. Lee.
There's yet another reason that your gas might seem out of control at night, that doesn't have to do with what you've eaten. "Our autonomic nervous system maintains closure of the anal sphincter, especially during the daytime, when we are very active and engulfed in daily activities," Dr. Lee explains. "This causes more gas to accumulate and become ready for release at night when our autonomic nervous system is less active and we (along with our anal sphincter) become more relaxed," says Dr. Lee. Plus, after your responsibilities for the day have concluded, you're also simply more aware of your body, she adds.
Your gassiness also depends on your diet.
Of course, the foods you're putting into your body at night and throughout the day also play a major role. There are tons of foods that can make your gas worse, especially foods high in fiber. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. While the insoluble kind stays close to its original form throughout digestion, it's the soluble kind that's more fermentable, and thus more likely to cause gas.
"Sources of soluble fiber include beans, lentils, and legumes, as well as fruits especially apples and blueberries, and grains such as oats and barley," says Mills. And sources of insoluble fiber include whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, and vegetables like cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.
"Since the human body does not break down fiber, we rely on the bacteria in our gut to do the job. The amount of gas produced from fermentation (of food in the gut) will depend on how developed a colony of bacteria is, based on how often we eat fibery foods to feed them," says Mills. So the more often you're eating those foods high in fiber, the healthier your gut microbiome is and the easier it will be able to digest.
But it may not just be the fiber itself that's making you gassier. "Foods high in soluble fiber are also high in fructans and galactooligosaccharides, sugars that can't be digested by our guts (but rather rely on gut bacteria to do the digesting, making you more gassy and bloated)," says Melissa Majumdar, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Foods high in fructans include artichokes, onion, garlic, leeks, peas, soybeans, kidney beans, ripe banana, currants, dates, dried figs, grapefruit, plums, prunes, persimmons, white peaches, watermelon, rye, wheat, barley, cashews, pistachios, black beans, and fava beans.
In recent years, the low-FODMAP diet has gained popularity as a remedy to fight GI discomfort (like gas and bloating) from a diet low in foods containing FODMAPs. FODMAP is an acronym that stand for the poorly digested and fermentable sugars: Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. This also includes the added fiber inulin, a fiber from chicory root, that is often added to processed foods like granola, cereals or meal replacement bars to give them an extra fiber boost.
You can also improve the bacteria in your gut by eating more probiotics regularly. Probiotics promote regularity in the gut when it comes to digestion and should leave you feeling less gassy, says Dr. Lee.
The timing of your eating plays a role, too.
Besides food choice, how gassy you are may also be a result of how much you ate at different times.
"I see people have trouble with evening digestion if they go long periods of time without eating and/or backload (if someone skips breakfast, eats a light lunch, and doesn't have any balanced snacks, dinner is going to be the majority of calories) and makes digestion more difficult," says Majumdar.
"If you don't eat or drink consistently throughout the day, the stomach can end up crampy and angry when a load of food hits it"-so finding a consistent eating and drinking schedule is key, she says.
Even if you tend to eat your meals later or earlier than average (Dr. Lee suggests breakfast around 7 or 8 a.m., lunch around noon to 1 p.m., and dinner at 6 or 7 p.m.), being consistent is the most important part. When you're irregular and inconsistent with your eating schedule, the body can't set a circadian rhythm, she adds.
And, unsurprisingly, your gut will really hate you if you cram in a ton of fiber-filled foods at dinner. "If the body is not used to large amounts of raw fruits and vegetables (and other food sources of fiber), it will have a hard time adapting," says Majumdar.
While women need a lot of fiber (25 grams per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, if you suddenly increase the amount of fiber you're getting every day too quickly, your gut will be sure to let you know. (Related: These Benefits of Fiber Make It the Most Important Nutrient In Your Diet)
Working out and hydrating can help.
"Exercise, exercise, exercise," says Dr. Lee. "Being physically active and physically fit is single-handedly the most effective way to keep your GI motility moving, as people with slower GI motility tend to suffer from constipation and or inefficient/incomplete defecation, which produces methane gas, resulting in excessive flatulence." (And FYI, whether you're a fan of morning workouts or an evening sweat sesh probably doesn't make a difference when it comes to nighttime gas, says Dr. Lee.)
Drinking lots of water also helps. Why? "Water is a magnet to fiber," says Majumdar. As fiber is digested, it absorbs water, which helps it pass through your digestive tract more easily. This also helps prevent constipation. (Related: What Happened When I Drank Twice As Much Water As I Usually Do for a Week)
Bottom line: While gas is a totally normal part of being human, if you're concerned about the amount of gas you have, consider talking to a pro. "No one knows your body better than yourself. If the amount of gas is concerning to you (i.e., new, more than your baseline, or escalating over time), then you should see a physician for evaluation," says Dr. Lee. "Once cleared by a physician, then seeing a dietitian for healthy diet options and choices is always a great idea."