Maybe you’re returning to your desk after lunch or contemplating running some afternoon errands when it hits: that sluggish, sleepy feeling that makes it difficult to stay focused and productive. You may wonder if the level of tiredness you’re experiencing after eating is normal or excessive and if there’s anything you can do to prevent this energy slump.
The good news is that in most cases, some sleepiness after a meal is a normal response to the digestive process and nothing to be overly concerned about.
After we eat, our bodies take the sugars and starches in the food we consumed and break it down into glucose (a type of sugar and ‘fuel source’). This glucose is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine and then released into the bloodstream, where it can be converted into energy. Because our bodies convert food into energy, you might think that we should feel more alert after eating.
However, certain types of foods—namely, simple carbohydrates—cause a sudden sharp spike and fall in blood sugar levels, which can leave us feeling drowsy. Simple carbohydrates include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, as well as refined sugars in candy, soft drinks, and other processed foods.
Other types of food can contribute to sleepiness, too. Certain high-protein foods, such as turkey, eggs, soy, and cheese contain tryptophan, an amino acid that stimulates the production of the chemical serotonin in the brain. An increase in serotonin levels can cause us to feel relaxed and drowsy. Meanwhile, foods such as bananas, oranges, tomatoes, rice, and oats boost the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone associated with regulating our sleep-wake cycle.
Image Source: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/images/ency/fullsize/19534.jpg
How to Avoid the Post-Meal Slump
Fortunately, it is possible to fight fatigue after eating. Try limiting foods with simple carbohydrates and instead focus on eating a healthy diet with vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Consuming foods with complex carbohydrates will help keep your blood sugar levels within a normal range so you don’t experience an energy crash.
Exercising on a regular basis can also help you avoid daytime sleepiness. Research shows that moderate, regular exercise can help you feel more alert during the day and reduce the likelihood that you’ll feel tired after eating.
When After-Meal Fatigue Becomes Severe
Mild drowsiness after eating is relatively common, but if you regularly struggle just to stay awake after eating or at different points throughout the day, your fatigue could be a sign of an undiagnosed condition. Diabetes is one possible cause, because this disease prevents your body from processing blood sugar normally, which can leave you low on energy. Other conditions that could be causing fatigue include anemia (an iron deficiency), an underactive thyroid, a mild food intolerance, or even sleep apnea.
If after-meal fatigue is a consistent problem that disrupts your day, it may be time to schedule a doctor’s appointment to get to the root of your drowsiness.