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How do you avoid getting sleepy after meals?

by Mark Miller April 25, 2016

How do you avoid getting sleepy after meals?

Portrait of Daniel Lambert, painted circa 1800. It is not recorded whether Mr. Lambert felt drowsy a lot. (Wikimedia Commons image)

If you’re getting sleepy at work in the afternoon or after your midday meal, it may be because you’re eating too many calories of carbohydrates, fats and sugars. So how do you avoid getting sleepy after meals?

Certain foods trigger the body to produce chemicals or hormones that induce drowsiness. To stay alert in the afternoon or whenever you have your meal during your shift, eat smaller amounts of food with less carbs, fat and sugars.

Cut calories too

You’ll have the added benefit of cutting down on calories if you opt for small servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains (in small amounts), nuts, seeds and low-fat meats.

Some people complain of drowsiness after a big holiday meal, especially where turkey is served. People have come to blame tryptophan in the turkey, but Huffington Post says there is just as much of the amino acid in eggs and cheese.


Some Americans eat 3,500 calories or more at their Thanksgiving meal. The fatty, sugary, carbo-laden foods plus the tryptophan in turkey may contribute to holiday drowsiness. (Photo by Ben Franske/Wikimedia Commons)

Foods high in carbs, fat and sugar trigger a neural response in the small intestine that directs the body to slow its metabolism and work on digesting what you’ve eaten rather than going out and acquiring more food to eat, Huff Post reports. This response takes place in what is called the parasympathetic nervous system.

Stimulating hormones

Researchers determined certain brain cells, the orexin neurons of the hypothalamus, react strongly to glucose, which spikes after a fattening meal. The neurons produce a protein named orexin that helps moderate wakefulness.

Another neurohormone affected by food is insulin, which the body releases in greater amounts as you eat bigger quantities of food. “The insulin, in turn, increases the amount of seratonin and melatonin that flood the brain, two chemicals associated with drowsiness (and, for that matter, happiness),” Huff Post states.

Huff Post says the drowsiness one feels after a meal isn’t dangerous. But if you feel it a lot it may be a sign of overeating, which does hold dangers of obesity and related heart disease, diabetes, stress on bones, muscles and tendons and other health problems.

Foods that cause drowsiness

Healthline reports on other foods that can cause drowsiness:

Though all foods are digested in much the same manner, not all foods affect your body in the same way. Some foods, like turkey, can make you sleepier than others. Turkey and other high-protein foods, along with spinach, soy, eggs, cheese, tofu, and fish contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is used by the body to create serotonin, possibly responsible for that post-meal haze. Cherries affect melatonin levels, carbohydrates cause a spike and subsequent fall in blood sugar, and the minerals in bananas relax your muscles. Any one of these factors could leave you sleepy.

Healthline says there are foods that have the opposite effect, foods that wake you up and make you ready to tackle any boring task your boss may throw at you right after lunch:

The good news is, there are foods that can have the opposite effect. For instance, a balanced diet that includes vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats promotes sustained energy. Drinking plenty of water, avoiding too much sugar and eating smaller, more frequent meals can also help.

Foods that boost energy

Woman’s Day has a good article on certain high-energy foods that can help combat low energy. The article states foods high in fat and calories can make you feel fatigued because they require a lot of energy to digest.

The 10 foods that Woman’s Day identifies as high in energy compounds are:

  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Honey
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Almonds
  • Salmon

(The fact that one publication says high-carb foods like rice and potatoes, bananas and spinach cause drowsiness and another publication says they boost energy may point to a lack of research on the matter.)

How do you avoid getting sleepy after meals?

It makes sense, too, as Healthline says, that a decent night’s sleep can help ward off drowsiness after a meal or during the midday.

Exercise also helps. “Multiple studies found that regular exercise helps increase energy and reduce fatigue. In other words, being sedentary doesn’t create some sort of energy reserve that you can tap into at will. Instead, being active will help ensure that you have the energy to push through your days,” Healthline reports.

Healthline’s article has the subhead: Feeling Tired After a Meal Is Completely Normal, but the site advises that talking to your doctor if the drowsiness interferes with your day or a change in diet and lifestyle don’t help mitigate it.

That said, WebMD advisesif you get tired after a meal, you may have celiac disease or intolerance to certain foods. Cut out certain foods if you suspect they are making you drowsy, and see if that works. If it doesn’t consider having a blood test for celiac disease, which affects about 1 in 100 people.

The old standby

Another thing you can try not mentioned by the articles we linked to is to take caffeine. As long as you keep your intake to 200 to 300 mg per day, caffeine is considered no problem. It is a stimulant that does not harm the body. In fact, many studies claim in moderate amounts it may benefit people, not just in boosting alertness but in reducing risk of disease and other types of pathology.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller



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