Food coma, afternoon slump, sleepiness after eating a big meal…we’re all familiar with the feeling of being exhausted after eating. And while it’s not a pleasant experience, it’s also not uncommon. In fact, research suggests that about one-third of Americans experience post-meal fatigue regularly. The technical term for this phenomenon is “postprandial somnolence,” and there are a few different factors that can contribute to it (10). Usually, post-meal fatigue is more of an annoyance than a cause for concern. Still, if you’re regularly feeling exhausted after eating, it’s worth investigating to rule out any underlying health conditions. Read on to learn more about the causes of being tired after eating, as well as some simple strategies for combating it.
Feeling Tired After Eating: What Causes Uncontrollable Sleepiness After Eating?
There are a few different factors that can contribute to post-meal fatigue.
You’re Eating Foods That Make You Sleepy
Researchers have yet to understand exactly how different foods affect our energy levels. However, it’s been noted that certain foods can make us feel tired. In particular, the following foods have been linked to post-meal fatigue:
- Tryptophan-rich foods: An amino acid called tryptophan is found in protein-rich foods like turkey, bananas, milk, oats, and chocolate.. Tryptophan helps the body produce serotonin, which can make you feel sleepy (4).
- Carb-heavy foods: Pasta, rice, bread, and other starchy foods can cause drowsiness after eating. This may be partly because carbohydrates help the body absorb tryptophan, which can lead to increased serotonin production (7). Furthermore, simple carbs like white sugar can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading to possible feelings of fatigue.
- Sugary foods: Foods high in sugar can also cause drowsiness. This is probably because sugar causes a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a sudden drop. Some people find that this “sugar crash” can leave them feeling tired and sluggish (9).
- Fatty foods: Fatty foods take longer to digest than other types of food. Some people find that they can make them feel sleepy due to their slower digestion rate, or possibly just a heavy feeling after eating them.
- Tart cherries:Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep (3). Eating tart cherries or drinking tart cherry juice before bed may help you sleep better. However, eating them during the day might also make you feel drowsy.
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts contain more melatonin than other plant foods. Eating a significant amount of nuts might increase melatonin levels and cause drowsiness (5).
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down the brain and body. Drinking alcohol can cause drowsiness and fatigue.
You’re Eating Too Much
It’s no secret that overeating can make you feel tired. This is because your body expends more energy digesting a large meal.
This increased energy expenditure can lead to feelings of fatigue, particularly if you’re not used to eating such large meals. Overeating can also cause indigestion, which can also contribute to post-meal fatigue.
Your Circadian Rhythm Is Off
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. It’s regulated by a “biological clock” in the brain that tells your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up (6).
There are a number of things that can disrupt your circadian rhythm, including jet lag, shift work, and insomnia. When your circadian rhythm is off, you may find yourself feeling tired during the day, even if you’ve had a full night’s sleep.
The post-lunch dip may also be a natural result of your circadian rhythm. Many people notice that their energy levels naturally dip in the early afternoon, as their body’s internal clock starts preparing them for sleep.
You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
It’s no secret that getting enough sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being (11). Unfortunately, many of us don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to feel tired during the day.
Furthermore, research has linked sleep deprivation to a number of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (11). If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s important to make some changes.
Sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome can also make you feel tired during the day. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s important to talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.
You Have An Underlying Health Condition
There are a number of underlying health conditions that can cause fatigue after eating or throughout the day:
- Diabetes: Diabetes is a condition that causes your body to either produce too little insulin or to resist the effects of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are too high or too low, it can lead to feelings of fatigue (13).
- Anemia: Anemia is a condition that occurs when there are not enough red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. When there are not enough red blood cells, the body’s tissues do not get enough oxygen, which can lead to fatigue (12).
- Thyroid problems:The thyroid is a gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. When the thyroid is not functioning properly, it can lead to a number of symptoms, including fatigue.
- Low blood pressure: Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can cause fatigue, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
- Celiac disease: Celiac disease is a condition that causes the body to react negatively to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, it can lead to a number of symptoms, including inflammation in the small intestine and fatigue (1).
- Chronic fatigue syndrome: Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition that causes extreme tiredness that is not relieved by rest. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex condition with no known cause. However, it has been suggested to be linked to several factors, including viral infections, immune system dysfunction, and hormonal imbalances (2).
- Heart disease: Heart disease can make you feel tired because it makes it harder for your heart to pump blood throughout your body. This can lead to a lack of energy and fatigue.
- Certain medications: Some medications can cause fatigue as a side effect. If you think your medication may be causing fatigue, talk to your doctor about changing medications or dosages.
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How To Stop Feeling Tired After Eating?
A certain degree of fatigue after eating is normal. However, if you’re constantly feeling tired after meals, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce fatigue:
Write A Food Journal
Dietary responses vary from person to person. By keeping a food journal, you can begin to identify which foods leave you feeling energetic and which foods make you feel tired.
In your food journal, be sure to note how you’re feeling after each meal, as well as what you ate and when you ate it. After a few weeks of tracking your food and fatigue, you should start to see some patterns.
Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Eating large meals can weigh you down and make you feel tired. To avoid this, try eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
In addition to helping you feel less tired after eating, eating smaller meals more often can also help regulate blood sugar levels and boost metabolism.
Choose Low-Glycemic Foods
Eating foods that have a low glycemic index can help you feel less tired after eating. Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels.
Low-glycemic foods include fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains. These foods are digested slowly, which helps to keep blood sugar levels steady and provides lasting energy.
Avoid refined carbohydrates that are found in ultra processed foods like white bread, pastries, and candy. These foods are high on the glycemic index and can cause blood sugar levels to spike, leading to a crash and feelings of fatigue.
Take A Quick Nap
The post-lunch lull is a common time to feel tired. If you’re struggling to make it through the afternoon, try taking a quick nap. Research has shown that naps can improve alertness and cognitive function. It’s important to keep your nap short, though. Naps that last longer than 45 minutes can actually leave you feeling more tired. The ideal nap time is about 15-45 minutes.
If you’re not used to exercising, starting a new workout routine can be daunting. But even moderate exercise can help reduce fatigue. Just 30 minutes of walking each day can increase energy levels and improve sleep quality.
Of course, before starting any new exercise regimen it’s important to talk to your doctor, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
Get Enough Sleep
One of the most common causes of fatigue is simply not getting enough sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. If you’re not meeting this goal, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to help regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle.
You should also avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, as these can interfere with sleep. Other ways to improve your sleep hygiene include avoiding screen time before bed and creating a calm, relaxing sleep environment.
Chronic stress can lead to fatigue and a host of other health problems (8). If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, there are a number of things you can do to manage it:
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Spend time with friends and family
- Take breaks throughout the day
- Practice relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation
If you’re struggling to manage stress on your own, consider talking to a therapist or counselor. They can help you identify and address the underlying causes of your stress.
Get Some Sunlight Or Bright Light
When you’re feeling tired, getting some sun can help improve energy levels. The sun’s rays help to stimulate the production of vitamin D, which is essential for good health.If you can’t get outside, try sitting near a window or using a light therapy box. Light therapy boxes emit bright light that can help to improve mood and energy levels.
Hydrate Throughout The Day
Staying hydrated is essential for good health (14). When you’re dehydrated, your body has to work harder to function properly, which can lead to fatigue. Aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water each day. You may need even more if you’re exercising frequently or in a hot or dry environment.
When To Talk To Your Doctor
While postprandial fatigue is usually nothing to worry about, there are some cases where you should consult your doctor:
- If postprandial fatigue is accompanied by other symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness, it could be a sign of something more serious, like heart disease.
- If fatigue interferes with your ability to function normally or perform daily tasks, it could be a sign of an underlying health condition.
- If fatigue occurs multiple times throughout the day or lasts for more than a few days, it’s important to talk to your doctor to rule out any serious causes.
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The Bottom Line
Feeling tired after eating can be frustrating and make it difficult to get through the day. However, there are a number of things you can do to combat post-meal fatigue.
By making some simple lifestyle changes and paying attention to how what you eat affects you, you can help improve your energy levels and avoid feeling tired after eating. If these changes don’t help, talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Celiac Disease (2022, nih.gov)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (2022, nih.gov)
- Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality (2012, nih.gov)
- Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis (2016, nih.gov)
- Melatonin in walnuts: influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood (2005, nih.gov)
- Physiology, Circadian Rhythm (2022, nih.gov)
- Recent research on the behavioral effects of tryptophan and carbohydrate (1984, nih.gov)
- STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants (2005, nih.gov)
- Sugar crash effects and how to fix them (2019, nih.gov)
- Why Do I Get Sleepy After Eating? (2022, sleepfoundation.org)
- Why Do We Need Sleep? (2022, sleepfoundation.org)
- What Is Anemia? (2022, nih.gov)
- What is Diabetes? (2016, nih.gov)
- Water, Hydration and Health (2011, nih.gov)