You devoured your lunch—an avocado egg salad sandwich, thank you very much—and you’re ready to get back to work. But after 20 minutes of sorting through your inbox, you’re ready for a nap. You might be thinking, It’s the middle of the day, why am I tired after eating? First of all, take solace in the fact that, in general, feeling a bit of fatigue after a meal shouldn’t be cause for concern—it’s normal. But if that midday-tired feeling is bumming you out, read on for why you’re feeling tired after eating (hint: some foods just make you feel tired), plus some ways to avoid it.
3 Reasons You Might Feel Tired After Eating
1. The Food You’re Eating Is Making You Tired
Just how some foods make you feel wide awake (looking at you, coffee ice cream), some foods can make you feel sleepy. You’ve likely—probably on Thanksgiving—heard of tryptophan, an amino acid that’s used to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. If you eat a meal with foods that are high in tryptophan, your body might produce more serotonin, leading to that tired feeling. While turkey does contain tryptophan, it’s far from the biggest culprit. Many high protein foods contain tryptophan, including soy, eggs, cheese, tofu and fish.
Tryptophan isn’t the only food-related reason for your fatigue. Take tart cherries, for example. A 2012 study at Northumbria University’s School of Life Sciences found that tart cherries increase melatonin levels, which might help increase the duration and quality of the sleep you get every night. If you want to feel sleepy after eating (in the evening, for example), try one of these six dinner recipes scientifically proven to help you get a better night’s sleep.
2. You’re Not Sleeping Enough
This one is kind of a no-brainer: If your body isn’t properly rested, you’re going to feel tired, regardless of whether or not you’ve eaten. You can learn more about the importance of getting into a better sleep routine a little later on.
3. You’re Not Exercising Enough
Regular exercise (even just a quick walk) helps you stay more alert during waking hours. If you’re spending all day every day sitting down, you’re way more likely to feel lethargic—before, during and after meals—than you would if your body was consistently moving throughout the day.
How to Avoid Feeling Tired After Eating
1. Be Mindful of What You’re Eating
As we mentioned, certain foods are really good at making you feel tired after mealtime or snack time. To avoid post-food fatigue, focus on fueling your body with foods that have been linked to higher energy levels. Think:
- Popcorn. We typically think of popcorn as a treat, since it’s so often served drenched in butter at the movie theater. As long as you’re smart about toppings, it’s actually a great, energy-packed option, since it’s so high in fiber and low in calories.
- Spinach. Leafy greens in general are great, but spinach in particular is an awesome choice for an energy boost. It’s packed with iron, which promotes red-blood-cell circulation, making you feel alert and able to concentrate.
- Oats. Oatmeal is a terrific breakfast, but oats shouldn’t be reserved only for the morning. Whole grains are absorbed slowly, making for a prolonged energy release. They also contain B vitamins like niacin and folate, which help your body metabolize energy.
- Chickpeas. Chickpeas have protein, carbs and fat. The carbs boost energy, while the fat and protein stabilize blood sugar by releasing those carbs steadily.
2. Move Your Body More
Even if it’s just a quick walk around the neighborhood (or set of jumping jacks and squats in your kitchen), staying active is a surefire way to improve your health in lots of different ways. It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to walk 10,000 steps a day to reap the health benefits of getting outside and moving around. According to Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health, the 10,000-step goal isn’t based in science—it was a marketing strategy. Concluding that 10,000 steps was too arbitrary a number, Dr. Chan and a team of researchers set out to find out if there was an exact figure to aim for. Their research was published last spring in the Journal of the American Medical Association and concluded that while there’s no harm in getting 10,000 steps a day, you don’t need to hit that number to reap the health benefits. In fact, researchers found that in older women, taking as few as 4,400 steps per day was associated with a 41-percent lower risk of dying during the study period when compared with women who walked 2,500 steps a day or fewer.
3. Prioritize Sleep Health
In a comprehensive sleep study conducted by the University of Turku in Finland in 2007, people who were sleep deprived had reduced reaction time, a more limited ability to pay attention, difficulty with both short- and long-term memory, trouble with logical reasoning and critical thinking and were not able to switch between tasks as easily (we’re looking at you, type-A multitasker on five hours of sleep). It’s time to get serious about improving your sleep hygiene, whether that means adopting a pre-sleep stretch routine, investing in a quality mattress or silk eye mask or even just sleeping with your bedroom door open.
The Bottom Line
While it’s not necessarily bad that you sometimes feel tired after eating, it can get in the way of your day-to-day responsibilities if you feel like you need to take a nap every afternoon. Though some foods are always going to be more likely to contribute to fatigue, there are a bunch of very simple little tweaks you can make to ensure that your brain is firing on all cylinders when it needs to be. It’s also important to note that if you suspect your fatigue after eating is caused by something other than your diet or sleep and exercise habits, you should consult your doctor.