We’ve all experienced that dreaded feeling of sleepiness and feeling your eyelids become heavy after a meal. This sudden dip in energy is known as post-meal fatigue and may be the reason you’ve become a nap addict.
‘I can’t keep my eyes open’
One of the many people who experience post-meal fatigue, Sindisiwe Mokoena from Johannesburg, says it occurs mostly after breakfast, and she has to sleep thereafter.
“Fatigue after eating makes me sleepy, and usually I just do. The tiredness affects my ability to perform tasks because I like taking naps, so I just do that and get back to everything else once I feel better and less full.”
Khanyi Gumede from Durban believes that being tired after eating is triggered by meals that are high in carbs and that the exhaustion that comes with it can last the entire day.
“Uphuthu (maize meal porridge) triggers tiredness for me more than any other starch food. I’ve resorted to moving around after meals; drinking water also helps. I believe we need to have more vegetables in our meals to keep us more active after eating.”
What causes you to feel sleepy?
“A decrease in energy levels after eating is mostly referred to as a food coma,” says Johannesburg-based dietitian Khuthadzo Thovhakale.
Thovhakale explains that hormones such as cholecystokinin (CCK), glucagon, and amylin are released to increase a feeling of fullness (satiety), blood sugar rises, and insulin is produced to allow this sugar to go from the blood and into the cells, where it’s used for energy.
“The other hormone that induces sleep, melatonin, isn’t released in response to eating. However, food can also influence melatonin production.
“An amino acid called tryptophan, which occurs in many protein-rich foods, helps the body produce serotonin. Carbohydrates help the body absorb tryptophan. For these reasons, eating a meal rich in both protein and carbohydrates may make a person feel sleepy,” she says.
Eating large meals at midday
Large or heavy meals and people who eat larger lunches may experience more of an afternoon slump than those who eat less at midday, according to Thovhakale.
She further mentions other factors that can contribute to tiredness after eating:
- Poor sleep at night can lead to tiredness throughout the day.
- Drinking alcohol with a meal, especially during the daytime. Drinking alcohol may cause drowsiness. It does this because it enhances the effects of adenosine.
Beat the slump
There are a few things you can do to feel less tired after eating and to keep your energy levels up:
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, avoiding eating heavy meals.
- Eating well-balanced meals that can help boost energy.
- Get good quality sleep. A person who gets enough sleep at night is less likely to experience a significant post-lunch energy dip.
- Get regular exercise. The impact of exercise on sleep is well known. For some, exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Go for a walk. Getting light exercise during the day, especially after eating, can help people feel less tired.
- Nap for 10 to 20 minutes. Sometimes, a post-meal nap is an option. But keep it short; anything longer than 20 minutes or so could impact your ability to sleep at your normal time.
- Avoid having alcohol with your meals.
If you are continually tired after eating and it starts affecting your quality of life, Thovhakale recommends contacting a doctor for further professional assistance.
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