What are the causes of feeling sleepy after eating?

September 14, 2020 4 mins read
What are the causes of feeling sleepy after eating?

Why do we feel so sleepy after eating? We’ve all felt that post-lunch dip when you’re full and relaxed after a hearty meal and the need to get some shut-eye sneaks up on you. Is it normal? Mostly yes, but it depends on several factors.

Why do I get sleepy after eating?

Scientists have labelled the post-meal fatigue that we encounter, postprandial somnolence. There are different theories about what makes us feel this way but the common understanding is that it’s a normal reaction which we all experience.

Research has found that what we eat and our mealtimes can affect how alert we feel. Other factors include our age, health, lifestyle choices, meal portions and other causes of sleepiness and fatigue.

Here are some reasons why you get that sleepy feeling after eating (and why eating and sleeping go together like peas and carrots):


The hypothalamus, found in the brain, secretes a hormone called orexin which controls our levels of alertness. When you have a meal, a signal is sent to the brain to release glucose to help you digest the food. As food is broken down during digestion, more glucose is released, while less orexin is produced, so you’re more likely to be sleepy.

Refined carbs and simple sugars like white bread, rice and cakes will result in you feeling sleepy after eating as they are quickly broken down into glucose.  When you eat complex carbs like brown bread and oats you won’t feel as drowsy after a meal.

Physical activity

Exercising during the day can help you feel more awake as it boosts your energy and reduces fatigue. Staying active releases feel-good hormones which help to power you through the rest of the day.

Certain foods in your diet

Some foods can cause sleepiness. If you’re battling to stay awake at work, avoid foods that contain tryptophan like turkey, soya, fish, and cruciferous vegetables. Tryptophan is used by the body to produce serotonin, which can make you feel drowsy. Ditch that turkey sandwich to avoid a post-lunch slump!

Food intolerances

Being sensitive to certain foods or having allergies can cause you to feel sleepy after eating. That’s because the food can trigger inflammation, causing discomfort and ultimately contributing to post-meal fatigue.

Is it good to sleep after eating?

The straightforward answer is yes. Taking a brief nap after lunch can put a spring in your step as it can elevate your mood, power your memory, sharpen your focus and boost your mental productivity.

5 ways to prevent being sleepy after eating

Here’s how to stop that post-meal fog from creeping up on you.

1. Drink lots of water

Get your daily dose of H2O to stay hydrated. Water not only leaves you feeling refreshed, but it also improves digestion (and helps prevent that sleepy feeling).

2. Eat smaller meals

Aim to eat meals in smaller portions or snacks so that this doesn’t trigger the release of glucose, which can bring on feelings of sleepiness.

3. Get some exercise

Take a walk, stretch or hit the gym. This will help you feel alert, raise your energy levels and help you stay refreshed after eating.

4. Go outside for fresh air

Some sunshine and a breeze might just be what you need to prevent that post-meal dip. Oxygen revitalises the brain, which helps you to stay focused and productive.

5. Get a good night’s sleep

Stay on top of your game by getting enough shut-eye at night. Your body gets a mini-makeover when you sleep as your cells are restored and your muscles mended. Getting enough rest can help reduce the chances of you feeling sleepy after eating as your body’s energy reserves are balanced.

Don’t suffer from sleepiness

Even though that post-meal slump shouldn’t be affecting your day in a major way, knowing what causes it can help you make changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as exercising more and eating the right food types. If sleepiness continues to affect your daily life, then it’s time to consult your GP who will rule out any underlying conditions such as diabetes.

Getting some energising, high-quality sleep at night can also help you stay awake during the day and minimise the chances of you feeling sleepy after eating. A restful night rejuvenates the body, regulates the appetite and boosts the immune system, so make sure to put some shut-eye on the menu!