Why Do I Get Tired After I Eat?

We all know what it feels like to eat a huge, yummy meal and want to fall right into bed until the next morning. The occasional desire for a nap after a heavy meal isn’t abnormal. It’s something we’ve all experienced on occasion. 

If you’re frequently tired after you eat, it may be beneficial to consider making small changes to your daily routine to avoid recurring sleepiness after eating. Let’s talk about why it happens and what you can do to reduce the chances that post-meal tiredness will impact the rest of your day. 

Is Post-Meal Tiredness a Real Condition?

Postprandial fatigue (sometimes called postprandial somnolence or drowsiness) is a recognized phenomenon that occurs anywhere between 30 minutes to one hour after eating. It simply means feeling tired after eating. 

There’s no officially recognized cause for postprandial fatigue, but most people occasionally experience a sleepy bout after a large meal. It’s usually not something to be concerned about unless it happens very often or even after small snacks. 

The Tryptophan In Food

Some foods contain a naturally occurring amino acid called L-Tryptophan, which the body converts to a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is a positive hormone that our bodies naturally manufacture. It can make us feel happy or relaxed. 

Foods like turkey are high in Tryptophan, contributing to the longstanding myth that we get tired on Thanksgiving because turkey makes us sleepy. Scientists have a better understanding of L-Tryptophan now than they did when the myth began. Amino acids that naturally occur in protein can prevent Tryptophan from being efficiently converted and utilized as serotonin. 

It’s very unlikely that the Tryptophan in our meals makes us tired, although many people swear that foods containing Tryptophan cause mild sedative side effects for them. 

Unintentionally Overeating

It can be very easy to unintentionally overeat on holidays or special occasions when there are so many excellent dishes to choose from. It can also be easy to overeat when we’re confronted with our favorite foods. Eating a wealth of something delicious can be comforting at the moment, but it may have unintended consequences later on.

Food is intended to fuel our bodies. Our digestive systems work hard to convert food into energy that the body can easily use. When the digestive system becomes overburdened by more than it can handle, it has to draw a lot of energy from the body to attempt to digest food. This can lead to post-meal fatigue. 

Learning how to recognize and honor satiety cues is important but can sometimes be challenging. It takes a while for our brains and our stomachs to communicate with each other about how hungry or how full we are. Eating slower can sometimes give the two messengers time to catch up with each other, preventing post-meal tiredness. 

Blood Sugar Levels Plummeting

Sugar isn’t just found in candy and soda. Refined carbohydrates, like white bread, can have the exact same effect. The body converts carbohydrates into a form of glucose that is utilized for energy. 

Glucose is one of the easiest and fastest energy sources for our bodies. As soon as we eat sugar, our blood sugar levels begin to rise, and we may feel more energetic. When that sugar is gone, the rush of energy abruptly stops, leading to a sugar crash and feelings of tiredness.

It takes a long time for the body to slowly break down whole-grain carbohydrates, but it makes quick work of refined carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread are lower on the glycemic index, so they won’t cause such a dramatic rise and fall in blood sugar levels. 

Eating Too Late at Night

A myth persists that eating past a certain time at night can contribute to obesity or cause weight gain: This isn’t true. Eating an appropriate amount of calories for our personal goals will always have the intended effect, even if we eat them a bit later in the day. 

If we meet our nutritional metrics within a 24-hour period, meal timing doesn’t particularly matter. It might make a difference in the amount of energy we experience throughout the day, and our bodies may be at different stages of winding down depending on our unique daily schedules. 

If someone who doesn’t normally eat past 7 p.m. has a big meal at 9 p.m. and intends to go to bed at 11 p.m., their meal may change their plans. Our bodies take cues from our circadian rhythm (also called the internal clock), which tells them when to begin the process of releasing natural melatonin and preparing for bed. 

When our bodies start the sleep process, they divert energy and resources away from digestion. The body becomes more focused on reparative and restorative tasks it can only perform while we’re asleep. 

When we eat after the body has started drawing attention away from the digestive process, we might feel sluggish, fatigued and ready to fall into a “food coma.” This often translates to a feeling of tiredness when eating late at night. It may also cause occasional abdominal bloating, making it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.

General Sleep Deprivation

We all have nights where we don’t get enough sleep, but we have to press on with the day’s work. If we’re already exhausted when it’s time to eat, a meal might push us a tad over the edge. 

When our bodies are working hard to conserve limited energy, our digestive systems can run slower. Increased fatigue after eating can be the body’s way of saying, “We don’t need food for energy; we need good old-fashioned sleep.” The afternoon slump might signify that a nap was just as important as a balanced lunch. 

How To Address Post-Meal Sleepiness

Post-meal sleepiness can usually be addressed by making simple and sustainable lifestyle changes that prioritize better sleep and healthier meals. 

Adhere to a Sleep Schedule

Ask yourself an important question: Am I tired because of what I’m eating, or am I tired because I’m not getting enough sleep in general? 

Adults can benefit from having a set bedtime just as much as children can. Plan ahead for an early wake time by having an early bedtime.

Adults need a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. We should all try to hit the minimum and get in an extra hour or two when possible. Adequate sleep may address many daytime sleepiness issues, including post-meal tiredness.

Address Food Sensitivities

Those of us with food intolerances or food allergies need to be mindful of the things that make their way onto the dinner table. Intolerances, sensitivities and allergies can stress the digestive system. When the digestive system is stressed, it can’t effectively convert food into energy. It may be time to take that gluten sensitivity seriously or give up dairy if it causes digestive issues. 

It may be helpful to work with a dietitian to create an elimination diet. Elimination diets help to identify the type of foods that may be causing digestive upset. This data can be incredibly helpful in resolving digestive issues, uncomfortable bloating and allergy symptoms.

Prepare Balanced Meals

Swapping out refined carbs for whole grains can keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, preventing a spike and crash that can result in feelings of fatigue. Smaller meals/portion sizes can reduce the risk of feeling too full, which can also cause sleepiness.

Incorporating healthy fats into well-balanced meals can provide the body with easily accessible energy. Omega-3 fats, like those found in nuts, fatty fish and avocado, can rapidly energize the body. 

Eat Slowly

Fullness signals can take a while to fully register between the brain and the stomach. Eating slowly can give these signals time to catch up with each other. 

Some people utilize the method of chewing their food for a long time to slow down the eating process. Other people find that avoiding distractions, like watching TV while they eat, helps them to slow down and appreciate their food. 

The Wrap-Up: Keeping Energy Levels Stable All Day Long

Changing the way that we eat and sleep can help us stay energized all throughout the day. Providing our digestive systems with the support they need can make it easier for the body to convert food into energy. 

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Does Eating Turkey Make Me Sleepy? | Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Are You Really Hungry? How to Your Understand Hunger Cues | Penn Medicine

Carbs, Protein and Fats – Their Effect on Glucose Levels | Joslin Diabetes Center

How many hours of sleep are enough? | Mayo Clinic