Always falling asleep after lunch

March 25, 2019

Dear Readers,

Lennie D is a 34-year-old man who says he has a real problem staying awake on the job after he eats a meal. This usually occurs at lunchtime. He says he sleeps OK at night-time, although his bedtime and the number of sleep hours tend to vary quite a bit. After lunch, he has to eventually drink coffee and even stand up and go for a walk for a little, just so his boss doesn’t find him asleep with his head on the desk. And it’s not just work, because he also felt drowsy on the road. One time, his car mounted the sidewalk before he realised he had actually fallen asleep at the steering wheel. No one was hurt, but it was a sobering event. Lennie says he has to find a way to stay awake during the middle of the day after lunch.


Well, there is an explanation for why afternoon sleepiness occurs, and it is often associated with having lunch. There are actually several reasons for the drowsiness or sleepiness at this time, including biological and chemical reasons.

- Our bodies are highly influenced by what is called the circadian rhythm, which cycles our sleepiness and our awake times. The early afternoon is a time when our bodies naturally cycle towards an ‘asleep’ time, which will contribute to feelings of drowsiness at this time.

- Also, the longer we stay up at nights, without proper sleep, is the more likely our bodies will naturally crave sleep. This occurs more often in the afternoons rather than in the mornings, and again at night-time.

- Medications, for example, antihistamines, can cause significant daytime drowsiness when taken in the mornings and might need to be taken at nights instead. A significant number of individuals take antihistamines often in the mornings and have a drowsy reaction, even to some of those labelled as ‘non-drowsy’.

- Eating a large meal at lunchtime will also divert blood supply away from other tasks in our body to help in the digestive function, and this can result in drowsiness.

- Blood sugar will rise after eating lunch, which causes blood insulin levels to spike to control it. The level of the insulin spike will depend on what is eaten, and this spike will cause drowsiness. To prevent this spike, it may be necessary to change what is being eaten at lunchtime from mainly sugar and carbohydrates to vegetables, proteins and fruits; sugars and carbohydrates are rapidly converted to sugar in the blood and spike a rapid increase in insulin, whereas protein, vegetables and fruits do not result in this spike.

- Foods which contribute to a feeling of drowsiness and which should be avoided during the daytime often contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that seems to drain off our energy when we eat it. This amino acid is found in turkey meat, and its action is accelerated by carbohydrates, which is why there is a serious increase in the risk of drowsiness after eating turkey meals.

Tryptophan is also found in spinach, in the skin of baked potatoes, bananas and beans, soy products, eggs, cheese, tofu and fish. These are, therefore, the best foods to ingest before going off to sleep at bedtime! Tryptophan is used by the body to create serotonin, which helps the body regulate sleep.

Alcohol consumption is unusual at lunchtime in our society, but alcohol can disturb our ability to function and can cause drowsiness.

Exercise will also help to counteract this natural tendency towards drowsiness, so short, light exercise for 15 minutes directly after lunch will help us remain alert.

There are also medical causes associated with lunchtime sleepiness; so if the condition of sleepiness persists despite your efforts to the contrary, then you should visit a doctor for a check-up.

Conditions like anaemia, diabetes, low thyroid function, kidney disease, electrolyte imbalance, allergic reaction to food, sleep apnoea or insomnia can also result in daytime sleepiness.

To stop falling asleep after lunch at work:

- Change your diet from foods that contain tryptophan, sugar and carbohydrates.

- Have a cup of caffeine or tea

- Schedule a short nap after lunch.

- Take a short walk.

- Drink enough water to remain hydrated.

- Limit alcohol.

- Listen to upbeat music.

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