It’s 1:30 p.m. You are at your desk trying to focus on your work, but all you want to do is nap.
Why do I feel sleepy after eating— a common question among a majority of people.
Depending on your choice of food, you can blame the meal or it may be a sign of a health condition that requires attention.
Feeling a little tired or drowsy after a meal is perfectly normal, but you shouldn’t find yourself taking naps after every meal.
We will examine why this overwhelming sensation occurs and how sleepiness after eating can be diminished, if not avoided.
9 Causes for Sleepiness after Eating
When we experience fatigue after eating a meal, it can feel like we need to crawl into bed and dive into a deep sleep for a few hours. Before you blame it on the type of food or lack of sleep you may be suffering from, it’s important to understand how the body can react to eating.
What we eat plays a major role in becoming sleepy after a meal as certain foods have tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid. The body produces serotonin from this amino acid. Turkey, eggs, cheese, spinach, soy, fish, and tofu are foods high in protein that fall under this category.
This explains the drowsiness your family has after a large celebration meal with turkey at times such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Eating smaller meals and drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help avoid this feeling.
2. Digestive System and Brain
We receive energy to function from the food we eat. Our digestive system breaks it down into glucose with the release of amylin, glucagon, and cholecystokinin hormones.
These hormones are responsible for increasing blood sugar levels, providing the state of fullness, and producing insulin for our energy levels.
Serotonin is released by our brain combined with melatonin produced by food results in a strong state of sleepiness.
3. Skipping Meals
There is no excuse for missing a meal, especially breakfast. We have been told it is the most important meal of the day as it sets the tone for our energy levels. By skipping meals, we are more likely to munch on or grab unhealthy snacks and meals, such as fast food, to compensate. This will increase the feeling of sleepiness after eating.
4. Lack of Exercise
It may seem like the less you move, the less energy you use and can reserve for another time. Our body does not work that way. We need to keep moving with regular exercise in order to maintain a good energy level throughout the day, thus reducing feeling tired. Improving our physically state provides longer-lasting energy and allows for a good night’s sleep.
5. Sleeping Habits
Part of experiencing sleepiness after eating is dependent on the amount and quality of sleep you get each night.
With the state of feeling full after a meal, your body becomes more relaxed and physically begins to unwind.
This can be avoided by maintaining a regular sleep pattern.
If possible, avoid napping during the day if you have trouble sleeping at night. On that note, it is good for overall performance if you can have a short nap during the day.
6. Insulin Production
The food we eat can affect the body’s natural production of insulin. Furthermore, some people have difficulty producing insulin, resulting in diabetic issues. If this pertains to you, expect headaches, weakness, and dizziness along with sleepiness after meals.
7. Health Condition Troubles
Consistently being tired or requiring a nap after every meal can indicate an underlying health issue such as anemia, sleep apnea, celiac diseases, thyroid issues, or even food intolerance. It is important to discuss any extreme feelings of sleepiness or drowsiness with your doctor.
8. Food Intolerance
It may sound like an excuse but having sleepiness after eating may be caused by a food allergy or intolerance to a particular type of food.
This is usually the case if you have drowsiness along with irregular bowel movements after a meal. Having alternating diarrhea and constipation along with bloating and gas can indicate food intolerance.
9. Nutrient Deficiency
Without the proper nutrients your body needs, your digestive system cannot perform as it should. This affects your bowel movements, energy level, and can lead to feeling tired after every meal.
Dealing with Sleepiness after Eating
There are a few lifestyle changes that can prevent you from experiencing sleepiness after eating.
1. Eat Less More Often
Small meals several times a day will prevent the feelings of sleepiness as your body works hard to digest large meals. Your daily meal plan should be outlined with breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack. The key is to not go more than three hours without eating. This also helps with maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
2. Eat a Nutritional Breakfast
Ensure you not only eat breakfast, but you also have a balanced breakfast. This includes foods of fruits, yogurt, and whole grain breads and cereals.
Starting your day with healthy food will prevent low energy levels and increase your mental and physical functioning throughout the day.
3. Opt for a Healthy Lunch
Avoid processed and starch-filled foods and enjoy complex carbohydrates and high-protein foods for your lunch. Prepare for the afternoon with lean meat, whole wheat bread and pastas, tofu, eggs, and vegetables such as green beans, avocados, lettuce, broccoli, and sea vegetables.
4. Other Tips
The nutritional value and timing of your meals will have a direct impact on your energy levels. It is also recommended not to sip on alcoholic beverages at lunchtime to avoid the sedative properties of beer and wine that encourage fatigue. After lunch, cut back on caffeine products as the alertness stage fades over time.
If you find there is no change in your condition after trying these tips, talk to your doctor. In addition, you may want to seek medical advice if your feelings of tiredness increase in frequency.
The overwhelming yearning for a nap during the day is a normal response to our body’s reaction to food, especially any tryptophan-containing foods such as turkey. Food is only one direct link to our sleepiness after eating as there are also environmental, biochemical, and personal habits that can create this internal state.
Most of the time there are lifestyle changes, big and small, that can alleviate the drowsiness we may feel. Any strong desire or requirement to nap after every meal may indicate an underlying health issue such as anemia, a nutrient deficiency, lack of insulin production, or even food allergies. Any concerns you may have should be addressed by your doctor.
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“Why Do I get Sleepy After Eating?” New Health Advisor; https://www.newhealthadvisor.com/Why-Do-I-Get-Sleepy-After-Eating.html, last accessed February 2, 2017.
Schaefer, A.,“Why Do I Feel Tired After Eating?” Healthline; http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/why-do-i-feel-tired-after-eating, last accessed February 2, 2017.
Steen, J., “Sleepy After Lunch? We Found Out Exactly Why It Happens,” January 9, 2016, Huffington Post Australia; http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/08/31/sleepy-after-lunch-we-found-out-exactly-why-it-happens/