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‘Why Do I Feel So Tired After Eating?’ – 6 Reasons According to Research

why do i feel so tired after eating - couple falling asleep after meal

DO YOU STRUGGLE TO KEEP your eyes open after having a meal?

We have all experienced it: enjoyed a delicious meal only to feel an irresistible urge to nod off for after a while. Isn’t it ironic you should feel sleepy after a meal considering that food should give you energy?

Sleepiness after a meal is the body’s response to chemical changes during the digestion process. There is even a scientific name for it – postprandial somnolence.

The digestive system and hormones

After eating, the body breaks down the nutrients from the food in your digestive system to turn it into glucose and eventually into energy. In the process of digestion, the body releases hormones such as glucagon, amylin, and cholecystokinin. The hormones lead to an increase in body sugar levels which induce the production of more insulin.

The body produces the insulin to control the sugar levels in the body. Increase in insulin leads to the production of serotonin, which is then broken down into Melatonin. Melatonin and serotonin are responsible for making you feel calm and sleepy.

Causes of sleepiness after a meal

When you eat, the digestive system works overtime to metabolize and transport the meal throughout the body. The rest of the body slows down and relaxes. Since the brain lacks adequate red blood cells to help it function optimally, you will feel lethargic.

Keep in mind that whatever you eat, your body will require a certain amount of energy to digest it. However, different types of foods place varying levels of demand on the digestive system.

Though all foods are consumed in the same manner, not all foods affect your body in the same way.

CAUSE: Sugar highs and lows

When you consume high Glycemic Index foods –Glycemic index measures how much insulin a particular type of food triggers. The higher the IG, the higher the amount of insulin produced and vice versa-, the body quickly absorbs the food. The food is then rapidly converted to glucose.

The glucose moves into the bloodstream, where it spikes the blood sugar levels. As a result, insulin is produced to balance out the sugar levels. The insulin triggers the production of the chemicals serotonin and melatonin in the brain which cause you to feel tired and drowsy.

CAUSE: You are eating too much protein

Some high protein foods like eggs, spinach, cheese, soy, tofu and fish contain amino acids. The amino acids are broken down into tryptophan which is then used by the body to create serotonin. By now you are familiar with serotonin. Experts say that serotonin is a transmitter that helps the brain to regulate sleep. Increased levels of serotonin will lead to post-meal lethargy

Have you heard of the old age wisdom that taking a glass of warm cow milk will help you sleep better? It is actually the hormone serotonin in the milk that induces sleep.

Experts say that the hormone serotonin, which was first identified in the 1950s, is produced by the pineal gland that resides under the brain. The hormone is mostly produced at night, reaching the peak around three in the morning. Serotonin acts on the brain cells that trigger sleepiness.

Fun fact: Higher amounts of serotonin are found in the milk of cows that are milked at night time as opposed to daytime.

why do i feel so tired after eating - Baby falling asleep in high chair

CAUSE: You're too busy

Sometimes sitting down and eating is the only time we stop apart from when we sleep. So if we are tired, our body can want us to go to sleep.

This is especially true if we are ‘always busy' doing something, and/or we are constantly distracted. Working longer hours is OK for a while, but it's not supposed to be a permanent state.

CAUSE: You are consuming too much fat

A study showed that eating 135 grams of fat or more will make you 78% more likely to suffer from excessive drowsiness.

When you consume fat, your digestive system has to work overtime and utilize a lot of energy to break down the foods. As a result, most of the red blood cells and the body’s energy are directed to the digestive system. This makes other body processes to slow down, which leads to the feeling of lethargy and drowsiness.

Fact: Fats end up staying in the stomach for a full three hours before they are digested.

CAUSE: Food allergies

Intolerance to certain foods is another cause of post-meal tiredness. When you are allergic to a specific food, the implication is that you lack the ability to break it down effectively. This could be due to:

  • Poor stomach acid production.
  • Poor digestive enzyme production.
  • An immune-based response.
  • Poor liver detoxification enzyme production.

Your body must therefore work hard to rid itself of an allergen that has been introduced through the food you have eaten. According to experts, eating something that you are sensitive to triggers an immune reaction which deprives your brain organs and nervous system of the nourishment they need. As a result, you will experience tiredness and probably even headaches.

Common food allergies include dairy products, tree nuts and gluten (the protein in wheat). Experts indicate that sensitivity to these foods will cause fatigue as your immune system goes to overdrive to protect the body.

CAUSE: It is also about how much you eat

The bigger the meal, the more sluggish you will feel. Overeating is one of the most common cause of eating induced sleepiness. After you eat, your body directs more blood to your digestive system. The more excessive in size your meal is, the more the blood you will require for digestion. This causes a temporary deprivation of blood and nutrients in your brain and leads to residual grogginess.

There are things you can do to avoid nodding off after a meal.

  • Do not overeat: If you are carrying food from home, choose a smaller container in which to bring your food. If you are eating in a restaurant, bear in mind that mostly, restaurants serve more than a single serving. Before you know it, you are eating for two. Commit to making restaurant bought food last for both lunch and dinner.

When you begin paying attention to your food portions, you will be surprised at just how much you have been overeating.

  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day: We have established that a large meal requires more energy to digest. As such, smaller, more frequent meals are recommended. This will not only help you meet your recommended dietary calorie intake but also keep your blood sugar levels steady.
  • Opt for macronutrient balanced meals: Dieticians recommend that you take a balanced meal that features more natural foods rather than processed and starchy foods. Aim to have one half of your plate to be non-starchy veggies, one-quarter of lean meat and a quarter of whole grains.
  • Take a walk: After consuming your meal, do not stay inside. Scheduling a walk or a simple exercise helps to increase oxygenation to your brain, hence, keeping you alert. This will minimize the risk of the post-meal slump.

Final thoughts

Postprandial somnolence is a reciprocal situation. What you eat is what you get. The more the carbs in the meals, the more the sugars in the blood, and the sleepier you get. Remember, sugars act as an aphrodisiac, making your system lazy, your body weak and your brain foggy.

Too many fats will lead to energy imbalance in your body as all efforts are concentrated on metabolizing the fats. And the proteins:  choose wisely and avoid amino acids if you do not have a provision for taking an afternoon siesta.

For more information on general tiredness go here.

DISCLAIMER: This web site does not take the place of your usual medical practitioner, it is intended to give information only and not to diagnose or provide medical treatment. It cannot cover all possible uses, interactions and adverse side effects. If you are at all worried about your health - please see your own doctor. Do not delay this as a result of anything you may have read about on the web. Many symptoms can result from a variety of causes, some may require specialist diagnosis and treatment. You should also consult your medical practitioner before taking any supplements as some of them may react with essential medicines or have harmful side effects.

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