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Post-Lunch Slump: What To Do When You Feel Tired After Eating

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WE’VE ALL EXPERIENCED it at one time or another: that afternoon slump when it feels like you can barely keep your eyes open to finish out the work day. For most people, it seems to kick in right after lunch and usually lasts about two hours. Some tiredness after eating is normal, but there are ways to minimize its effects so you can power through the afternoon without sacrificing work quality.

What Causes Afternoon Sleepiness?

There are several factors that cause us to feel tired after eating. The primary biological factor is the circadian rhythm, the process that governs sleep and wakefulness. By early afternoon, most people have been awake for about seven hours, a point which represents a natural dip in the circadian cycle. In other words, it’s a completely normal function to feel sleepy after lunchtime.

To compound this effect, many types of common lunch foods can exacerbate sleepiness. High-protein foods, like turkey, and other types of food, including spinach and cheese, contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by the body to fuel serotonin production, which can cause sleepiness – hence the notorious post-turkey coma many of us experience after Thanksgiving dinner.

Carb crash is the phenomenon of experiencing lethargy after eating a lot of carbohydrates. The sugars in carb-heavy foods cause a dramatic spike in blood glucose. The spike can’t be sustained, resulting in an equally dramatic drop, which causes sleepiness.

What Can I Do About It?

Post-lunch drowsiness can have undesirable effects. It makes it difficult to focus on your work, and more non-alcohol related car crashes occur in the afternoon than at any other time.

If you’re already experiencing the slump, there are several ways to manage it. If possible, use the morning to complete work tasks that require the most concentration, saving simpler tasks for your drowsy afternoon period.

A quick catnap of just 20 minutes is tremendously helpful to some people, but most of us don’t have that luxury. Exercise, like a brisk walk around the building, can be an energizing activity.

Finally, that old standby, the afternoon caffeine jolt, can help you bounce back. Just make sure you don’t overconsume coffee or energy drinks, as caffeine overdose has its own nasty side effects.

How Can I Prevent It?

The best way to deal with post-lunch sleepiness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. While there’s no good way to circumvent natural biological rhythms (and no reason to do so), you can take steps to keep your energy at a steady level throughout the day.

The food you eat all day – not just at lunch – plays an important role in your overall energy levels. Vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products, and healthy fats like olive oil, salmon, and nuts are great choices. It’s also important to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and avoid sugar-laden beverages like soda and tea.

The best thing you can do to regulate your body’s sleep patterns is to maintain a consistent bedtime and get adequate quality sleep each night. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep in order to operate at maximum efficiency. It can be hard to make sleep a priority in our busy schedules, but it’s a worthwhile investment of your time that pays dividends in almost every other area of life.

Health Note:If you’re experiencing long-term, abnormal lethargy, talk to your physician. It may be necessary to rule out an underlying medical cause.

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