One of the questions I always get is: Why do I feel sleepy after I’ve had a meal?
Folks tend to think their sleepiness is associated with a specific food, and yes, this may be true in some cases. But there’s also a scientific reason for the post-meal slump.
Eating a Big Meal Takes Energy
Most of our organs require a large amount of energy in order for them to work effectively, including the brain and digestive tract. When you consume a huge meal loaded with calories, your brain diverts the energy needed for digestion, sending red blood cells to the intestines to help break down food and act as vehicles to carry nutrients around our body.
As your digestive tract works overtime to break down the delicious meal you just consumed, your brain and the rest of your body slows down and relaxes. This causes mild lethargy because your brain isn’t receiving as much oxygen from red blood cells as it normally does.
Refined Carb Consumption Can Lead to a Crash
In addition, specific types of food can also cause you to become sleepy. You’ve probably experienced a sugar crash before: It’s the result of consuming a large amount of refined carbohydrates as well foods that have a high glycemic index. A sugar crash can leave you feeling fatigued and sometimes even irritated. Consuming refined carbohydrates can lead to a rapid spike in blood glucose, as insulin is released from the pancreas in order to regulate blood sugar levels as well as help store extra blood glucose as glycogen. Once your blood sugar level is at homeostasis, the sudden drop of blood sugar will then leave you feeling physically drained. Hence the crash.
Ways to Avoid Getting Sleepy Post-Meal
In order to ward off the post-meal slump, make sure you’re getting enough rest. This means getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night. When it comes to eating, try going for lighter fare as well as a more nutrient-dense meal. Do choose whole grains or a colorful salad and skip the sausage pizza, double chocolate chip cookie or the jumbo-sized soda.
Also, aim for more sensible portions and a more balanced meal that includes whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Lastly, if you want a beverage to go with your lunch, go with unsweetened iced tea, seltzer or water. Unlike soda or juice; these healthy options are refreshing and mostly calorie-free. Feel free to throw in a slice of citrus fruit or a sprig of mint to add flavor.
Jason is Zipongo’s registered dietitian and product manager. During his off hours, you’ll find him browsing the local farmer’s markets or hosting dinner with friends. For more nutrition tips, follow him @jasonlauRD and @zipongo.