In this image for an article about feeling sleepy after eating, a man is closing his eyes and putting a hand on his cheek in tiredness.

6 Reasons Why You're so Sleepy After Eating—and How to Prevent It

Always feel ready for a nap after chowing down? Here's how you can keep your energy levels steady.

By Karla WalshOctober 17, 2023


Whether it’s after Thanksgiving dinner, a big burrito at lunch, or an afternoon milkshake pick-me-up, you may have been there and felt that: tired. 

Scientifically deemed “postprandial somnolence,” and colloquially known as a “food coma,” feeling sleepy after eating is something most humans have experienced. However, that doesn’t mean we enjoy grinding through those next couple of yawn-filled hours. 

Luckily, you can combat that food coma before it happens. We asked registered dietitians to dish about how to do just that, plus the potential causes of feeling sleepy after eating and when to seek professional help.

Why Do You Get Sleepy After Eating?

There are many possible reasons why you might feel tired after eating, says Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, a dietitian based in Los Angeles and the author of From Burnout to Balance. Typically, it boils down to excess stress, what you eat, how much you eat, the medications you’re taking, and how much sleep you’ve scored lately. 

But how can you uncover the cause (or causes) of your post-meal sleepiness specifically? Try asking yourself a series of questions to act as your own detective, suggests Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, a Miami-based board-certified sports dietitian:

  • Are you eating at regular times?

  • Do your meals and snacks offer a balance of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins? 

  • Are you unwinding from your stressful day at this mealtime? 

  • Do you typically feel most sleepy immediately after a meal or snack or an hour or two later?

  • Do you feel sleepy after eating all meals and snacks or just dinner?

After answering those questions honestly, take a closer look at some of the most common causes of sleepiness after eating to help clue you in:

How Much You’re Eating 

If you consume a larger portion size than your body is used to (say, you dive into a stack of pancakes and bacon at brunch instead of eating your go-to morning meal of a banana and whole-wheat toast with nut butter), you may feel sleepy after eating, Ehsani says. 

“You may feel more sleepy after eating a big or calorically dense meal since it takes your body extra energy to break down and digest each meal,” she explains.

What You’re Eating

The ingredients on your plate or in your bowl matter, too, Bannan adds. For instance, consider how breadsticks and a big bowl of fettuccine alfredo land compared to a smaller portion of whole-wheat pasta tossed with diced grilled chicken, roasted broccoli, and tomatoes. 

Consuming meals that are high in carbohydrates—especially those with a high glycemic index, which are the kind of carbs that are lower in fiber and more quickly digested and absorbed—without a balance of protein, fiber, and fat can lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels followed by a subsequent drop. 

“This drop in blood sugar can trigger feelings of sleepiness,” Bannan says. 

When You’re Eating

Eating heavy or rich meals during a period of the day when your body naturally experiences a circadian dip in alertness, often around mid-afternoon, can contribute to post-meal sleepiness, Bannan explains. 

Food Sensitivities or Allergies

While you might be more familiar with bloating, gas, headaches, or even hives as potential signs of a food allergy or intolerance, these conditions can trigger various symptoms, including fatigue and sleepiness, Bannon clarifies. 

“When the body's immune system reacts to specific foods, it can negatively affect energy levels, too,” she says.


Some medications, particularly those that have sedation or drowsiness listed as side effects, can make you feel sleepy after eating. You can chat with your healthcare practitioner if you suspect this might be the cause and want more insight.

Your Sleep Status

Admittedly, this cause is a bit obvious, but we can’t go without saying that the quality and quantity of sleep you’ve been getting lately matters.

“If you had a less-than-restful night of sleep or didn’t allow yourself to get enough hours of sleep, you might feel sleepy after any meal you do eat during the day,” Ehsani says, and that’s true no matter what or how much you eat. “A lot of people aren’t hitting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, and this may cause sleepiness throughout the day.”

What Foods Make You Feel Tired After Eating?

Certain foods or food groups can make it more likely that you’ll feel zonked out after you bite. Some of the most common culinary culprits for feeling sleepy after eating include:

  • Foods rich in melatonin. This sleep-related hormone naturally occurs in some foods and drinks, including tart cherries (or juice made from it), oats, pistachios, mushrooms, tomatoes, and eggs.

  • Foods high in tryptophan. This amino acid can promote feelings of tiredness, too. You’ll find generous doses of tryptophan in cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, soybeans, chia seeds, pumpkin and squash seeds, lobster, lamb, and chicken. (Yes, turkey contains tryptophan, but contrary to popular Thanksgiving lore, it has about half as much as some of the aforementioned items.)

  • Foods high in fat. Fried chicken or fish, French fries, and buttery baked goods, for example, can also cause feelings of fatigue due to their richness.

  • Meals with excess added sugar. “Sugar provides a quick energy boost. But when you consume it without other nutrients like fiber, fat, and protein to slow down its digestion, your blood sugar will spike and then crash, bringing your energy levels with it,” Bannan says.

  • Meals rich in carbohydrates. A big bowl of pasta or a footlong sub sandwich with chips, for instance, can lead to a similar blood sugar rollercoaster.

How to Prevent Sleepiness After Eating

A little advanced planning can go a long way to stop the post-meal tiredness before it happens. 

Balance Your Plate 

Aim to eat a combination of fiber-rich carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats at each meal and snack to help stabilize blood sugar levels, Bannan recommends.

“Including lean protein sources helps maintain satiety, reducing the likelihood of post-meal fatigue,” she says. “High-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains also promote digestion and help keep you feeling full and energized. This prevents the rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar that can lead to post-meal fatigue.”

And when possible, aim to spread out your calorie intake throughout the day, rather than relying on, say, one large meal and itty-bitty snacks.

Eat More Energy-Boosting Foods

Certain foods naturally hit the sweet spot and seem to support energy levels more than others, Bannan says. Aim to add one or more of the following to as many meals as possible:

  • Beans

  • Beets

  • Brown rice

  • Chia seeds

  • Fatty fish

  • Leafy greens

  • Oats and oatmeal

  • Peanuts and peanut butter

  • Popcorn

  • Sweet potatoes

Get Moving

Something as short as a 5- to 15-minute walk (bonus points if you take it outside!) can aid in digestion, get blood flowing, and support a steady blood sugar, research suggests.

Stay Hydrated 

Studies hint that dehydration can contribute to fatigue. Try to drink water throughout the day (including before, during, and after each meal) to aid in digestion and maintain even-keeled energy levels. 

But how much water is enough? There’s no one correct answer, and it varies for each individual, but a rule of thumb to get you started is to divide your body weight in pounds by two, then shoot for that many ounces of H2O each day. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends a total of about 91 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men.

Prioritize Sleep

If you find that you struggle to rack up 7 or more hours of solid Zzzs, it’s time to brush up on your “sleep hygiene.” In other words, set up a snooze-friendly bedroom environment and try to carve out enough time from your schedule for enough uninterrupted sleep.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates simple steps such as:

  • Maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake time

  • Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and relaxing

  • Setting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature

  • Ditching electronics before bed

  • Staying away from big meals, caffeine, and alcohol before hitting the hay

  • Exercising during the day (so you fall asleep more easily at bedtime)

Is It Normal to Feel Tired After Eating?

No need to be alarmed: It’s totally human to feel sleepy after eating sometimes, particularly if you’ve eaten certain foods (like some of the picks mentioned earlier). Remember, “it might not be the food that you are eating, it might be other factors that are contributing to your sleepy feelings post-meal, such as not eating enough or frequently throughout the day; eating a larger, heavier meal than normal; not sleeping enough at night; or being stressed out,” Ehsani says.

When to Talk to Your Doctor or a Dietitian

If you notice that you’re feeling sleepy after eating meals or snacks multiple times per week and it’s potentially impacting your work or life (say, you often feel the urge to nap after lunch rather than attend that 3 PM meeting), it may be wise to consult a registered dietitian. 

Tell your doctor about your symptoms. They may do blood work to try to pinpoint any nutrient deficiencies. If your healthcare practitioner recommends diving deeper into the food side, ask for a referral to a dietitian, who will likely ask detailed questions about what you typically eat per day and how much you eat and then provide personalized solutions, Ehsani says. 

The Takeaway

Feeling sleepy after eating is fairly common, but you need not surrender to this fate. What, when, and how much you eat, as well as the medications you’re taking and any food intolerances or allergies, can influence your energy levels after a meal or snack. Taking steps to build and time your meals and snacks wisely, move your body, and get enough sleep can help you feel like your tank is full (not empty) after eating.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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