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How can I combat sleepiness after a big meal?

Photo: Flickr/Stacy Spensley

How can I combat sleepiness after a big meal?

November 15, 2013

Q: I would like to know why immediately after eating---mostly dinner--I feel a very strong desire to sleep, often ‘nodding out.' I’m ok after lying down for 20-30 mins. What else can I do to prevent or minimize the sleepiness?

A: The digestive system requires a lot of blood to digest meals, particularly those high in carbohydrates, starch and protein. To achieve this, increased blood flow, nervous system input (the parasympathetic nervous system), and hormones are required. All three of these responses from your body at the same time can cause you to feel tired. This can also be worsened by digestion of foods that contain certain types of proteins, such as turkey. This is why we hear about fatigue after eating Thanksgiving dinner.

If your meals are typically very wholesome, I would suggest eating more frequently. Taking long breaks between meals is hard on your GI tract, as it has to shift into “digestion mode” abruptly. I would recommend "priming" the GI tract by eating small meals throughout the day.

Additionally, as redundant as it may sound, exercise is a good way to increase your reserve energy. Begin at a level that is not daunting, like walking around the block, then gradually increase your activity. 

It would also be a good idea to discuss the sleepiness with your primary care provider and test your blood sugar when you are feeling another one of these episodes. A glucometer can be purchased at any drugstore.

I'll end by saying that daily activity will help in the global picture, but it’s not going to affect one day's fatigue, like that on Thanksgiving.

- Answer from kimo31, a licensed doctor on JustAnswer