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May 17, 2024 8 min read

It's common to feel like taking a nap after eating a big meal. This tired feeling, often called a 'food coma,' is something many people experience. But what really causes this sleepiness after we eat?1

Various factors contribute to this, from the natural effects of certain foods to our body's sleep rhythms. In this article, we'll explain why this happens and share some tips on how to prevent feeling too sleepy after meals.

The Science of Sleepiness: Digestion Meets Drowsiness

Feeling sleepy after a meal is natural, and it's largely due to the way our bodies digest food. Digestion increases blood flow to the stomach, directing energy there rather than to other parts of the body, which can make you feel tired.

Insulin plays a key role too—when we eat, especially foods high in sugar or carbs, our insulin levels rise to manage blood sugar. This rise in insulin can affect brain chemicals that control sleep, tipping the scales towards drowsiness.2

Additionally, certain foods, particularly those rich in tryptophan or fats, require more energy to break down and can lead to a feeling of tiredness as the body works to digest them.

Managing meal size and composition, like including a balance of nutrients, can help maintain steady energy levels. If excessive sleepiness after meals is a regular occurrence, it could be a sign to consult with a healthcare provider.

Specific Foods That Trigger Sleepiness

When we look at our diets, it's clear that what we eat can have a big impact on how alert or sleepy we feel. Some foods, because of their nutritional makeup, can make us more prone to feeling sleepy after eating them.3

This section will cover some common culprits that might explain why you feel tired after eating:

  1. Turkey: Yes, the Thanksgiving favorite is well-known for causing sleepiness, largely due to tryptophan. This essential amino acid is used by the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can promote a sense of calm and drowsiness.

  2. High Carbohydrate Foods: Eating foods high in simple carbohydrates, like those with sugar and white flour, can cause blood sugar levels to spike and then fall rapidly. This blood sugar roller coaster is often associated with energy crashes and sleepiness.

  3. Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and trout are examples of fatty fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. These nutrients are known to support brain health and can increase the production of serotonin, potentially leading to post-meal drowsiness.

  4. Nut Butter and Whole Grains: Foods rich in healthy fats and fiber, like almond butter and oats, can help signal to your body that it's time to slow down and digest, which can make you feel sleepy.

  5. Foods High in Saturated Fats: Meals containing a high level of saturated fats, like certain cuts of red meat or full-fat dairy products, can take longer for your body to digest and may lead to tiredness.

  6. Foods with a High Glycemic Index: Foods with a high glycemic index, such as white rice, bread, and pastries, can cause insulin spikes, leading to an increase in sleep-inducing serotonin.

  7. Meals High in Sodium: Large amounts of sodium can make you feel lethargic and bloated, making it hard to stay awake and alert.

  8. Certain Fruits: Some fruits, like cherries and bananas, contain melatonin and magnesium, which are known to improve sleep quality and can cause sleepiness after consumption.

By understanding how these foods affect your body, you can better manage your energy levels and avoid feeling sleepy after meals. It's important to consider not only the type of foods you're eating but also the portion sizes and the balance of nutrients in your overall meal.

Remember, if you consistently feel tired after eating, it could be worth discussing with a healthcare provider to rule out any food intolerances or underlying health conditions that may be contributing to your post-meal fatigue.

The Impact of Meal Size and Composition

It turns out that both the size and composition of your meals can greatly influence your energy levels and likelihood of experiencing post-meal sleepiness.

Large meals can make you feel especially tired because your body must work harder to digest them, which directs blood flow to your digestive system and away from other parts of the body. Balanced meals with a mix of proteins, healthy fats, and fiber can help provide more sustained energy and could prevent that post-meal crash.

The timing of meals also plays a role, with studies indicating that eating larger meals earlier in the day might be better for controlling blood sugar and energy levels compared to having them later in the day. For example, a breakfast with more calories can lead to better blood sugar control throughout the day compared to a heavier dinner, which might cause blood sugar and insulin to remain elevated for hours afterward, impacting sleep and the next day's energy levels.3

Blood Sugar Levels and Their Role in Post-Meal Sleepiness

When you eat foods high in sugar or with a high glycemic index, such as white bread or pastries, your blood sugar rises sharply, prompting the release of insulin. This process can lead to fluctuations in energy and alertness levels, often resulting in a feeling of fatigue or sleepiness as blood sugar levels drop.4

Meal timing can also affect how your body manages blood sugar. Eating more calories earlier in the day, particularly in the morning, can lead to improved blood sugar control and reduce the risk of insulin resistance, which is associated with feeling tired after eating.

How to Combat Post-Meal Sleepiness

To effectively combat the sleepiness that often follows meals, consider implementing a variety of strategies. These are grouped into three categories: dietary adjustments, physical activities, and behavioral changes. Each can help maintain alertness after eating.5

Dietary Adjustments

  1. Balance Your Meals: To stabilize blood sugar levels, focus on incorporating a mix of macronutrients—proteins, healthy fats, and fibers—into your meals. For example, instead of a pasta-heavy lunch, opt for grilled chicken with quinoa and a side of vegetables.

  2. Watch Portion Sizes: Eating smaller, more frequent meals can prevent the significant blood sugar spikes and drops associated with larger meals. Consider having a light lunch followed by a healthy snack such as yogurt or a handful of nuts a few hours later.

  3. Choose Low Glycemic Index Foods: Foods with a low glycemic index (GI) release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, sustaining energy levels. Incorporate foods like whole grains, legumes, and most fruits into your meals.

Physical Activities

  1. Take a Walk: A short walk after eating helps stimulate digestion and blood flow to parts of your body other than your digestive system. Even a five to ten-minute walk can make a difference in how you feel after a meal.5

  2. Light Stretching: If walking isn’t an option, try some light stretching or gentle yoga poses. This can also help increase energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue.

Behavioral Changes

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drinking water before and after meals can aid digestion and help mitigate the dip in energy levels by supporting blood flow and metabolism.

  2. Mind Your Eating Speed: Eating too quickly can lead to overeating, which can cause a more significant energy drop after meals. Take your time to chew your food thoroughly and enjoy each bite.

  3. Manage Stress: Stress can affect the way your body digests food and can contribute to fatigue. Techniques such as mindfulness or breathing exercises can reduce stress levels and improve your overall energy.

By integrating these strategies into your daily routine, you can help minimize the tiredness you feel after meals and maintain a more consistent energy level throughout the day. If you find these tips helpful but still struggle with energy dips, it may be beneficial to consult a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to explore further options or investigate underlying health issues.

Understanding Your Body’s Signals

Tuning into your body’s responses after eating can provide significant insights into your overall health and dietary needs. Feeling sleepy occasionally after a large meal might be normal, but consistent post-meal fatigue could signal underlying health conditions or dietary imbalances. Here’s how you can understand and respond to your body's signals:

  1. Monitor Your Fullness Cues: Pay attention to how full you feel after eating and adjust portion sizes accordingly. Overeating can strain your digestive system and increase tiredness.

  2. Recognize Patterns: Keep a food diary to note what you eat and how you feel afterward. Patterns may emerge that could help identify foods that trigger sleepiness, such as those high in saturated fats or sugars.

  3. Assess Your Sleep Quality: Poor sleep quality or not getting enough sleep can exacerbate feelings of tiredness after meals. Ensure you are getting a good night’s sleep to help your body manage energy more efficiently.

  4. Consult Healthcare Providers: If changes in your diet and lifestyle don’t help, or if you experience other symptoms like rapid increase in weight, blood pressure issues, or severe fatigue, it might be time to consult a healthcare provider. Conditions such as diabetes, food intolerances, and thyroid issues can also affect your energy levels and should be professionally evaluated.

  5. Consider Nutrient Deficiencies: Sometimes, feeling tired can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies. Essential nutrients like iron, vitamin D, and magnesium are critical for maintaining energy levels. A registered dietitian can help assess if you're getting enough of these key nutrients.

Conclusion: Post-Meal Sleepiness

Understanding why you get sleepy after eating is important not just for maintaining your alertness and productivity but also for your overall health. By recognizing the foods that impact your energy levels and adjusting your meal sizes and compositions, you can help prevent the post-meal slump.

Additionally, staying hydrated, managing your sleep, and keeping physically active are all vital in maintaining sustained energy throughout the day.

Always listen to your body’s signals and consider seeking advice from a healthcare provider or a sleep medicine specialist if you frequently feel overly tired after meals. They can help determine if your post-meal drowsiness is a symptom of an underlying medical condition or if it can be resolved with dietary and lifestyle adjustments.

Remember, every person's body is different, and what works for one might not work for another. Tailoring your approach to suit your unique health needs is key to managing and understanding your body’s response to food.

Why do I feel tired after eating only certain foods? Foods high in carbohydrates, sugar, or fat can cause changes in blood sugar and energy levels, leading to tiredness.

Can eating affect my circadian rhythm? Yes, your meal timing and composition can influence your body's internal clock and potentially disrupt your sleep patterns.

Should I talk to a sleep medicine specialist about my post-meal sleepiness? If your sleepiness is affecting your daily life, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying conditions.

What can I do to feel more energized after meals? Incorporating walks, staying hydrated, and eating well-balanced meals are some ways to maintain more energy post-meal.


  1. Khoory, J., Rupal, A., Jani, C., Singh, H., & Hu, K. (2021). Food Coma: Hyperammonemic Encephalopathy From Refeeding Syndrome. Cureus13(10), e18898. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.18898
  2. Murphy, K. R., Deshpande, S. A., Yurgel, M. E., Quinn, J. P., Weissbach, J. L., Keene, A. C., Dawson-Scully, K., Huber, R., Tomchik, S. M., & Ja, W. W. (2016). Postprandial sleep mechanics in DrosophilaeLife5, e19334. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.19334
  3. Zuraikat, F. M., Wood, R. A., Barragán, R., & St-Onge, M. P. (2021). Sleep and Diet: Mounting Evidence of a Cyclical Relationship. Annual review of nutrition41, 309–332. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-nutr-120420-021719
  4. Mouri MI, Badireddy M. Hyperglycemia. [Updated 2023 Apr 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430900/
  5. Sejbuk, M., Mirończuk-Chodakowska, I., & Witkowska, A. M. (2022). Sleep Quality: A Narrative Review on Nutrition, Stimulants, and Physical Activity as Important Factors. Nutrients14(9), 1912. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14091912