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Why Do People Die From Bangungot? Is It Due to Eating Before Sleep?

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Louise Nichole Logarta · Updated Mar 07, 2022

Why Do People Die From Bangungot? Is It Due to Eating Before Sleep?

Bangungot is a phenomenon in which a seemingly healthy person dies in their sleep without any obvious reason. It has been suggested that eating before sleep can lead to bangungot, but is this true? What are the effects of sleeping right after eating a lot of food? Why do people die from bangungot? Read on to learn more.

What is Bangungot?

Bangungot was first observed in the Philippines in the early 1900s. It is characterized by bad dreams which often follows the consumption of a large meal with alcohol. Bangungot gets its name from the Filipino words “bangon” (awakening, rising) and “ungol” (moaning). Many questions remain as to how and why bangungot happens, leading some to ask, “Why do people die from bangungot?”

Effects of Eating Before Bed

Experts advise waiting three to four hours after eating before going to sleep, to give time for digestion and to avoid digestive issues. Eating specific foods and sleeping too soon afterwards may also contribute to discomfort while sleeping.

Eating spicy or greasy foods, or taking too much alcohol, may cause indigestion. This may prevent you from sleeping properly. Otherwise known as dyspepsia, indigestion causes symptoms such as:

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen
  • Feeling of fullness while eating
  • Uncomfortable feeling of fullness after a meal

Indigestion can also be caused by existing health issues including ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, gastritis (inflammation in the stomach), GERD, pancreatitis and a host of other diseases.

Brugada Syndrome

Bangungot is sometimes described as sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome or SUNDS. This refers to sudden death during sleep that occurs in otherwise healthy adults. Researchers have frequently described SUNDS to be the same disorder as Brugada syndrome.

Brugada syndrome is an inherited disorder which is characterized by disturbances in the electrical system of the heart. Brugada syndrome is said to be the cause of 20% of sudden death in patients with otherwise normal hearts.

Cases of sudden unexpected death or sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome occur mostly in Southeast Asia. In the early 2000s, SUNDS was recorded to have occurred in persons between 20 to 39 years old.

Ventricular arrhythmia

Why do people die from bangungot? It may be due to how Brugada syndrome affects the heart.

Brugada syndrome results in abnormal heart rhythm, which leads to irregular heartbeats in the ventricles or the lower chambers of the heart. This is called ventricular arrhythmia, which can cause a variety of effects, including:

  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden death
  • This normally occurs when an individual is resting or sleeping. Structural abnormalities in the heart, an imbalance in the chemicals sending signals through the body, and use of prescription medicines could be the reason why people die from bangungot.

    Acute Pancreatitis

    Other research suggests that sudden death while sleeping occurs as a result of acute pancreatitis.

    Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which is situated behind the stomach in the upper abdomen. The pancreas is a gland that produces enzymes, which facilitate digestion and hormones that help process sugar.

    Acute pancreatitis may be caused by alcoholism, certain medications, gallstones, or high levels of calcium or triglycerides in the blood.  Acute pancreatitis appears suddenly and may last for days. In severe cases, bleeding may occur within or around the pancreas. This condition, called hemorrhagic pancreatitis, is a life-threatening emergency.

    This condition may also explain why people die from bangungot, with the caveat that this condition causing sudden death is very uncommon.

    Key Takeaways

    Why do people die from bangungot? Some suggest that eating a lot before sleeping may cause bangungot.

    Certain conditions may indeed develop when you head to bed soon after you eat dinner. For instance, people with underlying medical issues may experience discomfort or indigestion, making sleep difficult.

    While unrelated to digestion, another possible answer to ‘why do people die from bangungot’ is Brugada syndrome, which causes abnormal heart rhythm. Bangungot may also be caused by acute pancreatitis, which causes inflammation of the pancreas.

    Learn about other Digestive Health issues here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Chris Icamen

    Dietetics and Nutrition

    Written by Louise Nichole Logarta · Updated Mar 07, 2022

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