Post-Lunch Lethargy: How to Avoid Feeling Sleepy After Eating

June 12, 2019

Man feels sleepy after eating lunch.
Christine Yu

It's like clockwork. Every afternoon after you finish your lunch, your eyelids start to feel heavy and you stifle one yawn after another. What you wouldn't give to take a quick cat nap. If you experience a 2 p.m. slump, you're not alone.

Most people feel sleepy after eating, and it's completely normal. If you're sleepy at work after lunch, here's why you may experience a "food coma" and what you can do to beat the post-lunch lethargy.

Why You Feel Sleepy After Eating

There are several reasons why your energy dips and you may struggle to stay awake after eating. According to Time, it may be a natural side effect of digesting your lunch. As your digestive system works to break down your meal, blood flows to your gut and away from your brain, which can make you feel tired and less energetic.

Your body naturally slows down in the afternoon, leading you to feel groggy, thanks to the body's circadian rhythms. Your body naturally hits a lull at 2 p.m., according to the National Sleep Foundation. It's the body's way of saying you need to take it easy and recharge.

What you eat matters, too. Research has shown that some diets may be more likely to lead to a food coma. For example, one study published in the journal Molecular Metabolism found that people who ate a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal felt sleepy after eating. Carbohydrate-heavy meals can lead to a quick spike (and fall) in blood sugar levels, which can lead to drowsiness.

According to Healthline, certain foods can trigger the release or production of hormones like serotonin and melatonin, which can make your eyelids droop. For example, foods like turkey and eggs are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that's used to make serotonin.

How to Beat the Afternoon Slump

Sure, you could refill your coffee mug or visit the office candy bowl for a quick caffeine or sugar boost to stay productive the rest of the day. But if you feel sleepy at work after lunch, that may not be the best strategy. Instead, try one of these tips to avoid the post-lunch slump and stay alert.

  1. Get moving: Going for a walk after lunch can get your blood pumping and increase your alertness, especially if you can take a stroll outside. The fresh air can naturally chase away those post-lunch yawns. Or opt for the stairs, a quick spin around the office or even a few squats at your desk for a quick energy boost.
  2. Drink a glass of water: Sleepiness and brain fog may be one sign that your body is dehydrated. Studies have found that mild dehydration can cause headaches and lead to forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. So fill up your water bottle regularly and sip liquids throughout the day.
  3. Eat wisely: When choosing your lunch, skip the fast food. One study found that people who ate diets heavy in vegetables, healthy fats and dairy experienced less sleepiness compared to those who ate diets rich in processed foods. If you need an afternoon snack, avoid the chips and stick with foods rich in fiber, protein and fat, like fruit, whole grains, nuts and yogurt. These foods will keep your blood sugar stable until it's time to head home.
  4. Keep your meals small: Eating a large meal at lunch means there's more food to digest. This can cause a big jump in your blood sugar and an even bigger dip in energy. So keep your meals on the small side to keep your energy levels even.
  5. Turn up the lights: A study published in PLoS One found that people exposed to bright light felt less tired and performed better on cognitive tasks after lunch compared to those who weren't exposed to bright light. So switch on your desk lamp!

If you feel sleepy after eating and feel a food coma coming on, don't fret. It's your body's natural cycle to slow down in the afternoon and recharge.

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