Why you feel tired after eating and what you can do about it

The hypothalamus and tired after eating Follow Me on Pinterest Why you feel tired after eating was originally a short post written for the “Bites” section, but it has been such a popular post, that I decided to re-vamp it by making it into a full length post. I have added some extra information to help you to fully understand why we sometimes feel tired after eating, as well as some great short videos from Jon Gabriel of The Gabriel Method explaining the insulin connection.

Most of us have felt the effects of feeling tired after eating a particularly indulgent meal, but have you ever wondered why? I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore, and I can eat the occasional couple of biscuits, piece of chocolate, cake or dessert with no problems. But, if I eat a whole bag of lollies (140 grams), the quick sugar fix makes me want to go to sleep within 30 minutes.

What makes us feel tired after eating?

We now know that the culprits making us want to catch a few z’s are the processed carbohydrates and sugar. We normally think of sugar as something that we eat to give us energy; however recent research has shown that sugar decreases the activity of the cells in the hypothalamus (a small pea sized part of the brain that you can see in the picture) that produce the hormones orexin and hypocretin. Hypocretin and orexin both promote wakefulness and orexin also regulates food and water intake and the sleep-wake cycle. In effect, when we eat highly processed carbs and sugar, the production of orexin and hypocretin are shut down which makes us feel tired after eating.

Any time that we eat refined carbohydrates and sugar, it slows our activity levels down. We begin a cycle of eating sugar to give us energy, but it just makes us feel more tired. We then become too tired to exercise, eat sugar to “give us energy” but instead the sugar makes us feel tired again so we don’t exercise because we feel tired, and then we start to put on weight. Do you get the picture?

If you add sleep deprivation and stress into the equation you have a double whammy because the production of cortisol is increased. Cortisol is yet another hormone which increases your appetite and makes you crave the sugary comfort foods that help produce the feel good hormone serotonin to help you calm back down.

How can we stop feeling tired after eating?

After all, we have to eat! One strategy is to limit the amount of processed carbs that you eat with a meal or better still, cut them out altogether. Eat protein with every meal and increase the amount of salad and vegetables that you eat.

Protein stops you feeling fatigued after lunch by activating the orexin system (promoting wakefulness) and even eating a small amount of protein can reverse the effects of feeling tired after eating a meal that contain sugar and processed carbs, providing they are eaten at the same time.

How insulin can make us feel tired after eating

The affects of insulin can also make us feel tired after eating. Highly refined carbs such as sugar, white rice and white bread are digested and processed quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. Your pancreas will keep releasing insulin until the sugar in your blood stream has been brought back to normal levels. It does this by taking the sugar into your cells to be used for energy or into your fat cells to be stored if it is not needed immediately. If your blood sugar levels drop too quickly this can also make you feel tired after eating and ready for a nap.

These short 5-6 minute videos by Jon Gabriel from The Gabriel Method explain about insulin resistance and how it contributes to making you fat.

Insulin – video 1:  Insulin, blood sugar and Type-2 diabetes

Insulin – video 2:  What happens when your body becomes insulin resistant

Insulin – video 3:  How to balance your blood sugar levels

If you need help quitting sugar, Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar ebook is an eight-week program which will guide you through quitting sugar week by week for eight weeks. Now available on Kindle and supported by Sarah’s Kindle I Quit Sugar Cookbook.

Download includes PDF (printable) + formats for all e-readers. Purchase both ebooks and save $5 Kindle version only Kindle version only
tired after eating tired after eating

Further Reading:

Quit sugar and stop feeling tired after eating

Should we really be on a sugar free diet?

High fructose corn syrup, why all calories are not created equal

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52 Responses to Why you feel tired after eating and what you can do about it

  1. hcg drops January 21, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    Hhaha I am always sleepy when I finished my meal and if I can sleep even half on hour I am very nervous….

    • jan January 22, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      Try upping your protein and see if that works. I know if I eat a sandwich at lunch time I will be more sleepy than if I eat a salad.

  2. Zachary M January 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Thanks for the article. One way to improve the digestive health is to use easy to digest and full of healthy vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, omega3 etc. superfoods. It is known through research that superfoods increase the energy level, the mental and physical stamina and even cleanse the body from toxins.

    Since I started using a diet full in superfoods in the form of juices, salads and other recipes, my energy level has been through the roof.


    • jan January 22, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

      A good diet will definitely do that for you Zachary. I take Vemma which is a liquid nutritional supplement and I know it gives me fantastic energy for the lifestyle that I need. I haven’t had a cold or sickness for more than 3 years now since taking it.

      • Zachary M January 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        Cool, I think I will try it. The contents look great

  3. James January 24, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    Ran across your blog while researching topic for my own blog. Consumption of products with refined carbs or high in sugars can give a temporary energy boost but the blood sugar swing downward can cause a lack of energy fairly quickly. This is especially true for diabetics and can be dangerous for them. Best bet for a longer energy boost is complex carbs and protein.
    Some of the so called superfoods like strawberries and blueberries can give a quick energy boost without the resulting blood sugar swing if you have a sweet tooth.

    • jan January 24, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      Hi James
      I don’t know much about diabetes but it is all part of the big sugar picture and I have been thinking about doing some research on it for this site. Complex carbs and protein are definitely better for keeping your blood sugars stable

  4. Liane Markus January 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Yes, I felt tired after eating but the reason that I know is that because my stomach is full and I am not yet digesting the food that I have eaten. Good thing you have provided to us this great article Jan. This is a new knowledge for me.

    • jan January 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

      Glad that I could help Liane

      • Liane Markus January 25, 2012 at 11:42 am #

        You always do Jan. And I am sure there are still lots of people who would love to read and learn from your blogs everyday. Thanks again Jan.

  5. restaurant scarborough maine January 26, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    I find that if I eat a light lunch then I can make it just fine until dinner. But I know that differs person to person.

    • jan January 26, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      Boy you’re not wrong about it differing from person to person – if I eat a light lunch I am ravenous by the time I get home and then eat way too much before dinner!

    • Felicia March 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      I normally eat a whole lot during dinnertime, and I don’t seem to have any appetite at all during breakfast and lunch. I agree that it differs from person to person. That’s why I think I seriously need to change this destructive routine, or else I’d end up gaining more weight than usual.

      • jan April 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

        I’m the same as you Felicia, we tend to have a large dinner and then I am not really hungry come breakfast time. On the weekend I will not have breakfast until 9am or 9.30 so I just have a small breakfast.

      • Joe April 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

        Same here too, I eat much too at dinner though I always eat breakfast too. But I may skip Lunch.

  6. Natural Health Magazine January 27, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Now I understand why I usually feel sleepy after a heavy meal. I think we should lower down our carb intake, and try to drink water before a meal. Sugar and carbohydrates can sometimes become really bad for the body. Thanks!

    • jan January 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      I even feel a bit tired if I eat a sandwich for lunch rather than a salad, especially if it is a bought one and not packed with some nice protein and heaps of salad.

  7. Mike January 28, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    The importance of eating vegetables can lead to many health benefits compared to the negative effects processed foods have on our bodies

    • jan January 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

      Hi Mike
      You are so right there!! If you eat plenty of fruit and vege and have a pretty healthy diet, the occasional treat won’t harm you.

  8. Harriet January 31, 2012 at 4:17 am #

    Interesting. If I had my own way I’d be eating wholemeal pasta all the time instead of the white processed stuff. Unfortunatley my housemates prefer the white stuff and what they say goes. However when I have wholemeal stuff I do feel much less tired than when I have white pasta. I can’t wait until I live on my own and can eat my own way!

    • jan January 31, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      I hear ya Harriet! I hated it when I was sharing and people didn’t want to eat the same way, it’s difficult to follow the kind of diet that you want. Now I live with my partner and we both love the same foods so it is no problem at all.

  9. Sarinkumar February 3, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Thanks for the information. Sleeping after food is one of my big problems during exam days. Hope the trick to eat protein instead of carbohydrate will work for me. And I doubt is there any problem directly going to sleep after meal?

    • jan February 5, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      Hi Sarinkumar
      I will have a nap after a big lunch if it is the weekend! I think it only becomes a problem if you can’t get to sleep that night. And you would know from your blog the importance of a good night’s sleep – especially if you are a student taking exams and need to keep your brain awake!

      I don’t have any problems eating complex carbs – natural muesli for breakfast and wholegrain bread with cheese for lunch – it’s only the processed stuff that sends me to sleep like lollies that we tend to grab for if we are feeling low on energy.

  10. foodenergy11 February 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    I find that if I eat a light lunch then I can make it just fine until dinner. But I know that differs person to person.The difference between dead and living foods can easily be seen in the following 2 kirlian photographs. The one on the left is of raw organic broccoli. Notice the energy emanating from it. Think about it…there is obviously something we are doing and eating that is creating disease instead of promoting health and vital energy

    • jan February 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

      Hi Elise
      If I eat too light a lunch I know I will be starving come the afternoon which is a danger time for me. If I have a salad though filled with heaps of raw salad and veges, that is usually enough.

  11. elena anne February 24, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    Thank you Jan for the informative article.
    I always want more and more to eat after a meal full of carbs!
    Very correct the point of cortisol that increases the appetite. In addition high cortisol levels increase belly fat!

    • jan February 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

      Hi Elena
      Having a meal high in carbs can always be a trigger point for the sugar addicts! I read about the cortisol contributing to additional belly fat – just shows that we need to try to minimise stress if we possibly can.

  12. LA SEO_Expert February 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Very true !! These are the only reasons why people get so tired after meals !!

  13. Joe April 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    Great Post Jan, thanks for sharing these. People out there need to read this. Am gonna hit the share button for this post.

    • jan April 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      Thanks Joe

  14. tankless water heater April 20, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    This type of topic is really important to be spread concerning about diet and health, and it’s really not that easy to be control your self after a meal.

    • jan April 21, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      I know if I have a high carb meal it’s hard not to want a nap an hour or so later!

  15. pinktextbook April 29, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    Thanks for the nice article! I learned a lot from it. I have been feeling drowsy after meals(usually dinner cause I eat a lot) and found that if I walk around after the meal I get less drowsy. Also I have been eating vegetables and meat first in a meal, then a little bit of bread afterwards. I have become less drowsy. I’m a student so sometimes I think that the drowsiness is due to lack of sleep! I just hope it’s nothing wrong with my blood sugar levels.

    • jan April 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      If you are a student, no doubt you are studying hard and maybe staying up too late (maybe even some partying!), you would expect to start to feel tired at night because that is the natural process. If you are worried about your blood sugar levels you can always ask your doctor for a test but look at your diet and the amount of sleep you get as well.

  16. metabolism boosters May 10, 2012 at 1:43 am #

    Basic information that i know is, eat when when you feel hungry and stop it before your stomach is full. and other that i have dont until know is do regular fasting twice a weeek. its useful for control your sugar level in your blood.

  17. Crescent May 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    On top of that it takes a rater long time for your body to digest complex carbohydrates. Before you’re able to dive into the energy rich glucose they provide, your body has to spend energy converting them into a usable substance. That also makes you feel sleepy.

  18. Jamie May 26, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    So true! This is the first thing I noticed when I cut out the sugar. SO much more energy. I would always get a little energy slump after lunch, and I thought this meant I needed to reach for a cup of coffee – or a sugary snack. Once I stopped eating simple carbs and cut way back on the sugar, I found that those cravings went away, too!

    • jan May 27, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      Hi Jamie
      I have recently cut out ALL sugar because of my cholesterol levels and find that I can easily go from 7 am to 12 pm, although I do try to get to bed a bit earlier than that if I can. When I am eating high processed foods, I have no hope. Also, I have really upped my exercise to walking twice a day most days as well as doing some aerobic exercise – it’s amazing what a difference it makes.

  19. Cheryl Boswell May 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    Another good read that I came onto late Jan. Thanks for adding some science to the things we often experience on this. I wrote an article last week where I compared two meals from the same restaurant.

    Meal 1– Ribs, 1 full rack and a little less than a half of another (I was really hungry lol), coleslaw

    Meal 2– Ribs, half rack, 1 piece of whole grain bread, about 10 french fries, coleslaw.

    Even though I ate way less food in meal 2, I was more bloated and tired afterwards. It had to be the processed sugar/processed carb content from meal 2 that caused these feelings. Ribs are basically all protein and coleslaw is vegetable with some flavoring additives.

    • jan May 30, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      Hi Cheryl
      That’s an interesting experiment that you did – I love using myself as a guinea pig as well!

      • Cheryl Boswell May 30, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

        The way I went after those ribs Jan, pig is a perfect choice of metaphor.


  20. Natural Supplements June 5, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Where I come from is a saying that anyone, child or grown up, should have some rest after no matter what meal. Always thought it was a nice way to say we’re lazy :P Thanks to you, I know have a rather scientific explanation :) Very insightful article!

    • jan June 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      I think that’s a great way to think – not lazy but sensible, especially after lunch time.

  21. Laura June 17, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    I don’t know if it works differently for different people, but for me its carbohydrates like rice and potatoes that get me to feel sleepy. Sugar, on the other hand, tends to give me an energy boost.

    • jan June 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

      So true Laura everybody is different. I never found that sugar gave me an energy boost though. With a lot of people though, too much sugar can give them an initial boost followed by an energy low.

  22. Trevor Jackson July 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    What about eating healthier, eating less and eating slowly, without concentrating on anything else? I for one have noticed that if my meals are exclusively dedicated to eating – no watching tv, playing computer, reading the newspaper in the meantime – I realize much easier when I have eaten enough and feel better as I do not leave the table with a full belly, hence I feel less tired.

    • jan July 4, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      Hi Trevor
      These are all great suggestions but the post is about how refined sugar affects your energy levels not so much about about eating less. Please remember that this is a “G” rated site when you are linking as well. :)

  23. analy July 25, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    yes true, laziness after meal, i may feel like sleepy after. now i know how to control it and make my healthy habits more good. thanks for sharing.

  24. Michelle August 23, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Really insightful post and very detailed- thanks! Sugar is so tasty though- but after checking out your videos and reading your post – I may well think twice before indulging!

    • jan August 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      Hi Michelle – that’s what makes giving up sugar so hard – it does taste good! But moderation is the key!

  25. Biohealthcoverage September 15, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    Very resourceful, although we cannot do without sugar because it has it own role in our body system. The main issue is just that too much of everything is bad and sugar is no exception.

    • jan September 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      We can absolutely do without any processed sugar. When we were evolving we didn’t have shops to go to, we ate meat and wild vegetables and fruit. Our bodies break down whatever we eat into glucose so that it can be used for energy and for fuelling our bodies.

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