We have all felt it from time to time, that feeling after you have finished your meal where you just want to curl up and sleep; which is a little inconvenient, maybe, when you are at work or are in the middle of an important event. This can be particularly noticeable when you are in the middle of a meeting or function and you find that your brain significantly slows down after your meal and your eyes start to droop – attractive!
Of course this isn’t exactly great news, and particularly as lying down during this time is what leads to weight gain (as the body opts to store the glucose seeing as you aren’t using it), and as we often don’t have the luxury of just switching off after lunch. If you’re feeling very tired after eating then something probably isn’t right, so here we will look at what the problem may be.
One of the main reasons for the mid-afternoon or evening dip after your meal is that your body now has a significantly increased level of sugar in the blood. A large increase in blood sugar can increase your body’s energy levels and give you a ‘sugar high’, meaning that you can feel much more active. However the body in turn also creates more insulin as a response, which breaks down the sugar and uses it up. Once the blood sugar has decreased this can cause a large dip in your energy levels, in comparison to the energy you felt when eating your meal. This large dip can leave you feeling sleepy and slower in functioning.
Higher levels of insulin in the body can also cause a substance called tryptophan to be made and to move to the brain. Once tryptophan has entered the brain it causes the hormone serotonin to be made. It is serotonin that has been found to leave your body feeling sluggish and slow, and leaving you feeling sleepy and in need of rest. One of the best ways of avoiding this chain of events in the body is to eat food that is low in sugar. This will prevent excessive insulin being produced and ensure that your brain does not cause itself to feel slow. Better yet you should aim for ‘complex carbs’ which are the carbohydrates that contain glucose in a less available format. This causes the body to have to gradually break down the food in order to release the energy, which prevents you from getting that sugar ‘spike’ and ensures you get a steady supply of sugar throughout the day instead.
Another reason for many people feeling tired is that eating often gives your body a much needed chance to relax. In a working day or on a busy day you tend to move quickly from one task to another and meal times are the main points in the day where you are able to stop and give your body the chance to have a break. While you eat the body starts to slow down and is much more relaxed once you finish. Your body can start to feel sleepy and tired from your activities, something you did not notice as much before your meal. This is your body’s way of telling you to slow down and take the opportunity to have a break. Eating your meal slowly not only gives you some much needed energy from your food but also gives you the chance to rest up before the next job that needs doing.
Similarly the time at which you opt to eat can also have an impact on your energy levels. Due to the way our bodyclock is wired, we feel a natural dip in energy at 4pm and again at 4am. If you’ve just eaten a huge meal at 3pm then events will conspire to ensure you struggle to keep your eyes open. An earlier lunch is better then, followed by an earlier dinner to give you time to digest before bed.
That said, sometimes your body feeling sleepy is an indication that there is something wrong with the way that you are digesting your food. If you feel excessively tired it is worth taking notes about your symptoms and talking them over with your doctor. Monitor whether you also feel constipated or you suffer from diarrhoea, and make a note of what you were eating if you do have these side effects. Both constipation and diarrhoea can indicate that you are allergic to part of your diet. Also monitor the content of your stools. If you can see any undigested food coming out then that is a sign that your body could be suffering from malnutrition. If you are feeling excessively tired after you eat it is important to discuss your symptoms with the doctor. Food should not cause you to feel too tired.
You may also be feeling tired after eating because of what you have eaten, and if you eat foods that are slow to digest then this can use up a lot of the body’s energy as the food passes through your system. You will also find yourself feeling heavy and lethargic which further contributes to feelings of tiredness.
To avoid this you should aim to avoid foods very high in fat – as fat takes longest to digest (part of the reason that a Big Mac is so satisfying when you’re really hungry). Furthermore you should try to eat more fiber which will help clear your system and encourage foods to pass through quickly, and you should aim to keep meals light. Think little and often rather than stuffing yourself with a gigantic meal three times a day.