Feeling Sleepy After Eating: The Post-Lunch Dip

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

You’re at work and shortly after eating lunch it hits. You’re feeling sleepy, less alert and are craving a nap. Blame it on the post-lunch dip. Although not everyone experiences sleepiness after eating lunch, it’s estimated it affects about 20 percent of the population, as reported by the New York Times. Feeling tired in the afternoon can lead to decreased productivity and mistakes at work. Although partly due to biology, there are some steps you can take to decrease the post-lunch dip.

Why You Start Feeling Sleepy After Eating

Feeling sleepy in the afternoon, especially after lunch, is a common occurrence. The post-lunch dip usually occurs due to a combination of factors, such as the following:

  • Circadian rhythms: You can partially blame post-lunch sleepiness on biology. Your body has natural internal rhythms, which make you feel sleepy at certain times of the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, for most people it’s normal to feel sleepy at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. When you go to sleep at night, the body's core temperature drops. Melatonin production is stimulated, which helps you feel sleepy. The same thing happens to a lesser extent in mid afternoon, shortly after lunchtime.
  • Eating certain types of foods: Certain foods, such as greasy, fast food, don’t provide the nutrients your body needs to sustain energy levels throughout the day. In addition, foods that are high in tryptophan, including turkey, dairy and nuts, can make you feel sleepy.
  • Large meals: Eating a large lunch can make you sleepy for a few different reasons. Large meals take longer to digest, and tend to make you feel weighed down and sluggish. Also, eating a large meal causes an increase in the production of certain hormones, which can increase sleepiness.

Foods To Limit

In addition to the size of the meal, eating certain foods at lunch may increase the chances afternoon sleepiness will set-in. For example, foods high in sugar, such as cookies, candy and soda, may give you an initial burst of energy, but it only lasts for a short time.

Although you might be tempted to head for the vending machine and have something sweet to pick you up, eating foods high in sugar backfires when it comes to helping you feel alert. Foods high in sugar and certain types of carbohydrates, such as white rice, potatoes and pasta, cause an increase in insulin production. The insulin stimulates production of tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels in the brain and can cause sleepiness.

Foods To Combat Afternoon Sleepiness

Choosing certain foods at lunchtime may help combat the post-lunch dip. According to Northwestern University, eating foods high in protein, such as lean meat, eggs and tuna can help fight sleepiness after lunch. The body also needs complex carbohydrates for energy, such as brown rice or beans.

Also, add a little fiber to your lunch, such as whole grain crackers or vegetables. Fiber will help keep insulin levels steady and prevent big spikes in blood sugar. Steady insulin levels reduce large increases in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which can increase sleepiness.

Although you may want to reach for energy drinks or other caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, it may not be your best bet. Drinks that contain caffeine may give you a temporary boost, but it will not last long. After the caffeine wears off, you'll likely feel even more tired than you did before. Plus, there are the numerous side effects of too much caffeine that you need to worry about.

Tips On Easing The Post-lunch Lip

Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee or candy bar to try to wake up, there are other things you can do to fight after lunch fatigue.

  • Drink up: Dehydration can make you feel tired. Keep in mind – you don't have to be thirsty to be in the early stages of dehydration. Throughout the day, drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
  • Eat healthy snacks: A light snack a few hours after lunch may also help keep energy levels up and give you the fuel you need to get through the rest of the afternoon. For example, apples, string cheese and yogurt all provide good sources of energy.
  • Nap: Although not everyone can close their office door and take a quick nap, it can help. If possible, a short nap between 15 and 20 minutes may do the trick and help you feel more alert.
  • Exercise: Exercise can also be a way to combat sleepiness after lunch. Even a brisk 10 minute walk around the block will get the blood flowing and help wake you up.

The combination of your natural internal clock and eating certain foods at lunch can zap your energy and leave you feeling sleepy after lunch. It’s common to experience the post-lunch dip occasionally, but if you find yourself tried and struggling to stay focused most afternoons after lunch, it may be a problem. Although eating right and avoiding certain foods can help, nothing replaces getting enough rest at night, eating well throughout the day and getting regular exercise.


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