Feeling tired or sleepy after eating is something most of us have experienced. After finishing a big lunch or dinner, feelings of drowsiness and fatigue can make us want to go for a nap. Is feeling sleepy or tired after finishing a large meal something to worry about?
Many of the reasons you may want to sleep after eating have to do with the carbohydrates and sugar in your food. A big drop in sugar after eating can make you feel extremely tired and want to snuggle up and fall asleep for a while. Also, your body requires a lot of energy to digest large amounts of food, which can make you feel exhausted and fatigued.
Drowsiness and lethargy are also related to certain hormones and amino acids in your body. For example, turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan that has been linked to sleepiness and drowsiness. So many people claim that eating turkey makes them sleepy due to the compound tryptophan. We will talk later about whether this is more myth than reality.
The science behind feeling tired and sleepy after eating
Food is the main source of energy your body needs to function properly. As soon as you eat food, your digestive system goes to work breaking down the food and extracting the nutrients. Your digestive system converts much of the food you eat into fuel or glucose.
When food is eaten, there is a spike in insulin in the body. After this initial spike, insulin levels drop significantly, which some call a sugar drop.
However, this is not the only effect caused by food intake. Insulin also causes tryptophan to reach the brain where it stimulates serotonin and melatonin. Both neurotransmitters help regulate sleep.
Foods rich in carbohydrates increase the levels of tryptophan in the blood. This, in turn, affects the levels of serotonin in the brain. The result is a calming effect on the body that can cause drowsiness.
Reasons you feel sleepy or tired after eating
Let's take a closer look at the many reasons why having lunch or dinner can make you feel tired and sleepy.
Orexin is a chemical in the body that helps regulate wakefulness and appetite. Blood glucose levels are directly related to orexin production. Researchers have found that high insulin levels decrease the amount of orexin the body makes. This could make a person extremely tired and sleepy after a carbohydrate-rich meal. On the other hand, lower levels of insulin stimulate orexin secretion.
Therefore, one of the reasons for extreme fatigue after meals could be because insulin and glucose levels inhibit orexin.
Another reason to feel sleepy after lunch or dinner is if you have an inflammatory disease.
Inflammation in the body causes the body to divert energy to fight infection and the source of inflammation. Researchers have found that inflammatory responses in the body also excrete cytokines that inhibit orexin and can make you sleepy.
Inflammation caused by an acute illness can negatively affect orexin levels. This can have the effect of not only making you sleepy after a meal, but also making you drowsy while you're sick.
Insulin and tryptophan
Insulin spikes that occur after consuming too many sugary drinks or carbohydrates can cause an energy drop after eating.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study showing that foods with a high glycemic index (GI) increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain. High levels of tryptophan increase serotonin secretions, leading to sleep.
Tryptophan supplements are used to increase serotonin naturally. This is sometimes used for people who have trouble falling asleep.
Another reason food can make you sleepy is due to hormones in your gut that are part of your digestive system.
One of these hormones is cholecystokinin (CCK), which can induce a feeling of drowsiness after a high-fat meal. For example, clinical trials on the effect of CCK and the feeling of drowsiness after eating have shown a connection. A 2010 study reported that increased CCK levels after eating created an "eating-induced sleep response."
Although CCK increases orexin levels, other chemical interactions in the gut cause fatigue and lethargy after eating a large meal.
Disorders that cause drowsiness and sleep after eating
Let's look at some underlying health conditions that are also linked to feeling tired after eating.
Digestive disorders and drowsiness after eating
Some digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease can cause drowsiness after eating.
A study from China found that many gastrointestinal problems can cause drowsiness and tiredness after eating. For example, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and heartburn have been linked to daytime sleepiness. People who have one or more digestive problems also showed more symptoms of daytime lethargy.
People who are overweight tend to feel sleepier after eating carbohydrates or large meals than people who are at a healthy weight.
Of course, the way our digestive system works can make anyone want to take a nap after lunch or dinner. However, research on daytime sleepiness has found that overweight people are affected more often.
Type 2 diabetes
Since eating foods that increase sugar levels can make you feel drowsy after eating, it's no wonder diabetics have the urge to nap after eating as well.
The Journal of Psychosomatic Research reported that increased blood sugar levels can lead to feelings of tiredness and fatigue. In fact, tiredness was one of the most common symptoms of high blood glucose levels. This also affected cognitive function and altered moods.
Symptoms of a drop in sugar and the feeling of extreme tiredness are aggravated in diabetics. Many people with type 2 diabetes have a hard time maintaining a healthy weight, which can lead to more tired feeling after eating.
Why are you sleepy after eating carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the foods that make you sleepy in the afternoon. Why do carbohydrates have this effect on your fatigue levels? After all, carbohydrates are a source of energy for the body and should make us feel energized.
You get tired after eating carbs because they tend to spike your glucose levels. That causes the pancreas to produce insulin, which in turn affects chemicals in the body that regulate sleep and wakefulness.
It is important to remember that not all carbohydrates are the same. The carbohydrates that create sharp sugar spikes and subsequent sugar crashes are simple carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates like white bread, sugar, cakes, and pasta act as fast-burning fuels in the body and are quickly converted to sugar. The best type of carbohydrates to eat are complex carbohydrates, such as those in whole grains.
So, oatmeal, barley, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice are all examples of healthy carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain healthy components like fiber, essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary for a healthy and balanced diet.
Why sugar makes you sleepy
The reason sugar makes you sleepy is the same reason carbohydrates make you want to nap after lunch. Sugar affects insulin levels which in turn lower orexin levels.
A 2008 study reported that orexin is necessary to feel awake. Additionally, this neurotransmitter is important for memory, cardiovascular control, and stress reduction. Scientists have found that even a small increase in blood glucose levels can decrease the activity of orexin.
Does eating turkey make you sleepy?
A report published in the BMJ magazine on myths associated with food found that turkey does not produce a special sleep. Claims that turkey makes you tired is due to the fact that turkey contains levels of tryptophan that induce sleep. However, according to the researchers, turkey contains the same amount of tryptophan as chicken and ground beef. Foods like pork, cheese, and some dairy products contain more tryptophan.
The researchers summarized that eating large Thanksgiving meals or Christmas meals with turkey, stuffing, and desserts would naturally induce more drowsiness due to the high protein and carbohydrate content. The wine that accompanies the meal can also influence the feeling of sleepiness.
Foods that can cause drowsiness
Some of the foods that can make you tired and sleepy are those that contain higher levels of tryptophan.
According to the American Nutrition Association, foods like poultry, beef, dairy products, and other high-protein sources can cause drowsiness. This happens because they naturally stimulate serotonin production, which is known to cause tiredness.
However, probably the type of food that is likely to make you feel very tired after eating is any food rich in carbohydrates and protein.
How to avoid feeling sleepy after a meal
For many people, fighting fatigue after lunch is a great challenge. What can you do to reduce the feeling of sleepiness after a meal?
Eat smaller meals
One way to stop feeling tired and sleepy after lunch or dinner is to eat smaller meals. Many of the medical studies mentioned in the article have pointed to the fact that large meals high in protein or carbohydrates can cause tiredness after eating.
Drink green tea
You may be able to avoid an energy drop after lunch by combining a cup of green tea with lunch.
Green tea has many health benefits including helping you lose weight and it contains powerful antioxidants. A study published in the journal Science Reports found that green tea helps break down carbohydrates more effectively. Green tea also reduces the absorption of starch and fat, as well as lowers blood sugar levels.
Walk after a meal
Taking a walk after lunch will not only help keep your heart healthy and help you lose weight, but it will also help you feel less tired and sleepy after eating.
However, for the best benefit, it is important to go for a walk immediately after finishing a meal rather than waiting 30 minutes or an hour.
Reduce carbohydrate and sugar intake
Of course, if you constantly feel very sleepy after eating carbohydrates, you should try to reduce your carbohydrate intake. You could try switching to whole foods, as they release energy at a slower, more controlled rate and contain many nutrients that benefit your health.
It is also important to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. You will find that you start to lose extra pounds faster and you may feel less tired after eating.
Keep a food diary
To find out which foods make you sleepy, you can keep a food diary. This can help identify if you are affected by food intolerances or allergies that can make you feel tired after eating.
To help your body function properly and effectively, you need to stay well hydrated throughout the day.
According to the journal Nutritional Reviews, even mild dehydration can cause feelings of fatigue, reduced motivation, and increased perceived exertion.
Your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into the nutrients your body needs. If you neglect your digestive health, your body could run into problems absorbing those essential nutrients. The foods you eat and the lifestyle you live have a direct impact on your digestive health. Taking steps to improve your digestive health can help your digestive system function more efficiently and improve your overall health and sense of well-being.