Why Do I Feel Tired After I Eat?

woman sleeping at desk after eating

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You probably know post-meal tiredness by its informal name of a 'food coma' or 'the itis' but this condition is so real that it has a formal name too: postprandial somnolence.

Postprandial Somnolence aka 'Food Coma" or 'The Itis'

Postprandial somnolence refers to the feeling of tiredness many people experience after eating a meal.

Getting tired after eating is a common occurrence, and usually, it's not one to worry about. However, that doesn't make it convenient! A post-lunch slump can negatively impact your day, leading you to not accomplish what you need to in the afternoon.

This article looks at the various reasons you may be getting tired after you eat, as well as what you can try to do differently to avoid post-meal sluggishness.

Ahead, you'll find everything you need to know about tiredness after meals.

The Digestive Process

Even if you do everything right in relation to your diet, you still might experience post-meal sleepiness. That's because of how digestion works: When you eat, blood goes from the rest of your body into your digestive system. It's called postprandial hyperemia, and it can't be avoided.

Why You Feel Sleepy After Eating

Your body has to provide additional blood to your digestive system in order to digest your food in an expedient manner. Because of the extra blood in your stomach and gut, there is less blood to go to your brain. In turn, you may feel sleepy temporarily, until the first phases of digestion have been completed.

Additionally, immediately after you eat your blood sugar rises, then begins to fall. The fall in your blood sugar can make you feel sleepy, especially if you ate foods that are low in fiber which leads to a sharper spike and drop than high-fiber foods do.

Just the act of insulin moving into your bloodstream, transporting sugar from your blood to your cells, can make you sleepy, which can lead to sleepiness right after eating. Of course, this tired effect can be worsened based on other factors, too; let's look at what those are.

Big Meals Require Work

The more you eat, the more work is needed by your body to digest your meal. Some bodies require more nutrients and calories than others, so you may not be able to control how much you eat at once if you want to feel full after a meal.

You Might Have Eaten More Than Your Body Could Handle

But, studies have shown that the faster you eat, the more you'll end up eating. So, it's possible that you feel extra tired not only because you ate a lot, but because you ate quickly and ended up consuming more than your body could handle at that moment.

This is a common phenomenon around the holidays, particularly at Thanksgiving when seeing friends and loved ones fall asleep in a chair or on the couch is an unsurprising experience.

Protein and Carbs Can Make You Sleepy

You've likely heard that people get tired after eating on Thanksgiving because of the l-tryptophan in turkey, and there is some truth to that. Particularly, the amino acid l-tryptophan, which is a relaxant found in proteins like poultry, is only activated when eaten alongside carbohydrates.

And, because carbs make your body release serotonin, which is also a relaxant, the combination of the two chemicals can have you napping before you know it.

Combining protein and carbohydrates is notorious for leading to tiredness, more so than combining protein and fat or carbohydrates and fat.

These are combinations that are heavily prevalent in U.S. culture: think of a sandwich, which is meat (protein) on bread (carbs), for example.

Health Problems

There are numerous medical conditions that can lead to a person feeling tired after eating.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, in which the body can't properly process gluten, can make someone feel sleepy directly after they eat it.

Diabetes

People with diabetes may experience larger fluctuations in their blood sugar, and can feel extra tired after a meal.

Thyroid Conditions

People with thyroid problems can have a negative reaction to foods that slow the thyroid, like cruciferous vegetables. As a result, they may experience sleepiness after eating those foods.

Anemia

Anyone who is anemic can experience excessive tiredness at any time, with after-eating being a common occurrence.

Is It a Health Condition or Did You Eat Too Much?

It can be tricky to know if your tiredness after eating is caused by a health problem or is just a normal reaction to a large meal. One way to discern whether or not it could be related to an undiagnosed health issue is to keep track of what you eat, to see if it is the same foods causing your sleepiness every time.

Keeping a journal to log any common foods and track when you felt tired after you ate may be helpful. This is also information you can then share with your healthcare provider if you choose to seek additional assistance.

How to Alleviate Post-Meal Tiredness

In as much as it's normal to get tired after eating, that doesn't mean it has to be a part of your life. It's inconvenient, and most people prefer to not go to sleep directly after eating—especially if they are doing so earlier in the day, like with lunch.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent post-meal sleepiness.

Talk a Walk

Light exercise such as a short walk after eating can help stabilize your blood sugar, preventing the spike and crash that can lead to sleepiness. By helping to slow your blood sugar's response to food, you are also putting yourself in a better position to prevent illnesses such as diabetes.

Even just short little walks that are only a few minutes long can help.

Eat Less, More Often

Because so much effort is required by your body to digest large meals, you can try eating less food, more often. In turn, this will be less work for your digestive system.

You won't feel as weighed down as you do by eating big meals, and you may find you have more energy overall, in addition to experiencing less tiredness after eating.

Avoid Mixing Alcohol and Food

Alcohol is a depressant. It can make you sleepy because of that. Combining it with food can heighten this effect. So, try to not mix the two, and instead, save that glass of wine for later at night, after dinner when it's OK to begin feeling sleepy as your body preps to go to bed.

Bright Light Therapy

At night, it's more aligned with the circadian rhythm to be in a darker environment. But for those who experience fatigue after lunch, when it is still fully daytime, bright light therapy can help prevent you from getting tired after eating.

In one study, a half hour of bright light therapy after lunch proved to be as rejuvenating as a thirty-minute nap.

Eat More Fiber

Consuming a balanced diet full of high-fiber foods can help you to be less tired after you eat. For one thing, you'll have more nutrients overall for your body to work with, which is generally better for your overall well-being and can increase your energy throughout the day.

Additionally, you'll experience fewer spikes and drops in your blood sugar because fiber slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.

A Word From Verywell

If you regularly experience fatigue after eating, you may have a medical problem. It can be helpful to track what you eat to know if certain foods are causing the issue, but even if that doesn't yield any answers, it's worth checking with a professional. Your doctor should be able to help you understand what exactly is going on.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.