Why do you feel tired after lunch?

Published 2 months ago at 12 Nov 2020 by Alexandra Soare

Did you know?

  • 80 - 90% of the people can adjust their routine if work/school requires it
  • 5 - 10% are extreme morning people
  • 5 – 10% are extreme evening people

This article is about after-lunch tiredness. Before going there, however, we have to talk about sleeping patterns. According to this 2005 study from the University of Pittsburgh, what influences your post-lunch fatigue are more elements like:

  1. sleeping patterns
  2. melatonin level
  3. carbohydrates amount

For a long time, many assumed that eating a heavy lunch might induce sleepiness and while this is true, it has much more to do with your sleeping patterns and the circadian rhythm.

Sleeping patterns

On the hottest days in the savanna, where the Homo sapiens developed, an afternoon nap was a good way of getting through the day. Predators were resting in the shadows and the early humans took advantage of this by recharging their energy with sleep and food.

The study suggests that this thousand-year practice has remained “in our system”. We don’t get tired because we had lunch. We get sleepy because around noon our body was programmed to rest. Even in experiments where the participants were closed in a simulated environment unaware of the time of the day and they still felt tired around that time.

“So, in other words, the post-lunch tiredness is an effect that predicts rather than reacts to a lunch-meal.”

Even if this phenomenon is universal, some individuals react differently to it.

  • Extreme morning types have less performance after lunch.
  • Extreme night owls perform much better compared to the other groups after lunch. 

Whichever type you are, take advantage of your own rhythm! Society prefers individuals that fit in the 9-5 work schedule, but within this frame, you can manage to shift some tasks before or after lunch.

What about melatonin?

Did you notice how it is much easier to be productive when the sun shines, rather than the cozy mode of the rainy days? The daylight keeps us awake because of the blue light. Every color in the visible spectrum contains a unique electromagnetic radiation. The blue light is situated at the end of it and contains the most energy. This specific color is the only one that can activate the SCN = the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It is the region in our brain that keeps us awake. 

After lunch, the best way to be energized for the rest of the day is by:

  • increasing the amount of daylight exposure;
  • if it's winter and cold, you can use a light box.

I used one in winter all the time when I had difficulties waking up in the morning. It helped me also feel energized after the post-lunch tiredness. The good news is that it also stimulates the release of serotonin, the happiness hormone.

What about food?

The after-lunch tiredness can be influenced also by the size of the meal and the carbohydrate amount. Scientific studies didn’t put focus on this part, as the points before were more influential. In any case, pick a light meal and if you want to eat carbohydrates, pick the complex ones rather than pasta, pizza, or rice.

In conclusion:

  • the post-lunch tiredness depends most and for all on your sleeping patterns (can be partially influenced)
  • on the melatonin levels (can be fully influenced)
  • in the last place on the amount of carbohydrates in your meal.

Originally published on Medium on August 28, 2020

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

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Alexandra Soare

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