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Sleepy After Eating? A Sleep Doctor Answers Your Questions

You may get sleepy after eating because of sleep debt, a natural energy dip in your circadian rhythm, or because you’ve had a high-calorie or high-carb meal.
Published
2021-09-22
Updated
2023-07-05
21 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Woman feeling sleepy after eating

Why Do I Get Sleepy After Eating? 

  • It’s not clear why exactly, but you may get sleepy after eating due to being sleep deprived, going through a natural drop in your energy levels as part of your circadian rhythm (your body clock), or because you’ve had a high-carb or high-calorie meal. 
  • The RISE app can help you get more energy — both after meals and all day long — by helping you get more sleep and get in sync with your circadian rhythm.  
  • We answer more of your sleeping, eating, and energy questions below.

We all need to sleep and we all need to eat. But these two essential behaviors are tightly linked — and they can mess with each other. 

You’ve probably experienced the dreaded post-lunch food coma, the feeling of being bloated in bed after a late-night dinner, or being extra hungry after a night of no sleep. But why do all of these things happen? 

Below, we’ll dive into your questions about sleeping, eating, and energy. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you master meal timings and sleep to get more energy.

Advice from a sleep doctor

For an expert’s take on your top question, we turned to our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu to find out why we get sleepy after eating.

“Feeling sleepy after eating is normal, especially if you’ve just had a heavy, carb-rich meal. But you’ll feel more tired than usual just after lunch, during your natural afternoon dip in energy, and if you’re sleep deprived.”

Why Do I Feel Sleepy After Eating?

It’s not entirely clear why we feel sleepy after eating, but it could be due to a blood sugar crash, a change in hormones, sleep deprivation, or your energy levels naturally falling as part of your circadian rhythm.

Feeling sleepy after eating is known as “postprandial somnolence” or “postprandial fatigue.” You might also know the feeling as a “food coma.” 

Let’s dive into the theories behind post-meal sleepiness in more detail. 

After eating, blood flow may shift from our brains to our small intestines, making us sleepy. And hormones like cholecystokinin, which are released when we eat, may also contribute to our drowsiness. High blood sugar levels can block certain neurons in our brains that make us feel awake, and the following sugar crash can certainly leave you feeling low on energy.

A high-calorie meal or high-carb meal can also make you feel sleepier than usual. And if you’ve had an alcoholic drink with your meal, this could be to blame for your drowsiness. 

Food sensitivities and allergies, like gluten intolerance, can also lead to sleepiness and brain fog. And medical conditions like diabetes, hypoglycemia, anemia, and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can also make you feel tired after a meal. You may also feel sleepy after not eating enough, like if you’re on Ozempic and cutting your calories. 

But your post-meal tiredness may not have anything to do with eating at all. Our energy levels naturally fluctuate over the course of the day as part of our circadian rhythm, or body clock. There’s a natural dip in energy in the afternoon, which often comes after typical lunch times, and in the evening, often after dinner.

Curious about what your circadian rhythm looks like? RISE can predict the timing of your circadian rhythm each day, so you can see when your energy levels are expected to dip in the afternoon and late evening.

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

And if you’ve been missing out on sleep recently, you’ll have high sleep debt. Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body. If you’ve got high sleep debt, that afternoon dip in energy is going to feel much worse, and you’ll have lower energy levels all day long — no matter what and when you eat. 

To see if sleep debt is to blame, RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have. We recommend keeping it below five hours to maximize your energy levels. 

In summary, you may feel sleepy after eating because of: 

  • A change in blood flow 
  • Hormonal or brain changes  
  • A blood sugar crash 
  • High-calorie or high-carb meals 
  • Alcohol 
  • Food sensitivities or allergies 
  • Medical conditions
  • Your circadian rhythm causing natural dips in energy 
  • High sleep debt 

We’ve covered more on why you’re so tired after you eat here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen and here to view their sleep debt.

Why Do I Get Tired After Eating Lunch?

You may feel tired after lunch because you’re experiencing a sugar crash, you had a big meal high in calories or carbs, or you have food sensitivities or allergies. Afternoon sleepiness is also a natural part of your circadian rhythm, and it’ll feel worse if you’ve got a lot of sleep debt

Boost your energy after lunch by paying back sleep debt (by sleeping more at night or taking naps) and having a light and healthy lunch.

You may not be able to avoid the afternoon slump altogether, though. Many people will feel sleepy in the afternoon, no matter what they’ve eaten or even if they've skipped lunch, due to the natural dip in energy that comes with your circadian rhythm. 

This usually happens around 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., but it can happen earlier for early birds and later for night owls. So your afternoon dip in energy may hit you right after lunch. 

If this is the case, work with your circadian rhythm, rather than against it, and use this time to take a break, do easy tasks, or take a nap. Check RISE to see when this dip in energy will be to plan your day. 

We’ve covered more on how to beat the afternoon slump here, including the best lunches to go for to keep your energy levels higher. 

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Which Foods Can Make You Sleepy?

Some types of foods can make you feel sleepy. But rather than individual foods, you’re more likely to feel tired from large meals or meals that are high in sugar or carbs.

These foods can cause sleepiness:

  • Sugary snacks: Sure, sugar will give you an energizing buzz, but you’ll get a sugar crash shortly after. Steer clear of based goods, candy, and processed breakfast cereals. 
  • Simple carbohydrates: Simple carbs are digested quickly, so you get a sugar rush and crash. Steer clear of white bread, white rice, white pasta, pastries, and fruit juices. 
  • Caffeine: Coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks can wake you up at first, but they can easily keep you up at night, which can leave you feeling sleepier the next day. We’ve covered more ways caffeine can make you feel tired here.
  • Alcohol: Alcoholic drinks — or even desserts with booze in them — can make you feel drowsy. Plus, alcohol fragments your sleep, meaning you may wake up during the night, build up sleep debt, and feel sleepy the next day. 
  • Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a sleep-promoting amino acid that’s converted into serotonin and then the sleep hormone melatonin in the brain. It’s found in turkey, chicken, eggs, spinach, chickpeas, milk, nuts, dried dates, and oats. But you’re most likely not eating enough tryptophan to feel the sleepiness effects. Instead, it’s the size of your meals and the percentage of carbs versus protein and fats in your meals that are making you tired. Or it’s something unrelated to food, like high sleep debt. 
  • Melatonin: Melatonin is a natural hormone that primes your body for sleep. You can also find it in eggs, fish, nuts, brown mushrooms, seeds, tart cherries, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, pomegranate, olives, grapes, and broccoli. Again, you’re probably not getting enough melatonin in your meals for this to cause your tiredness. 

We’ve covered more on what gives you energy here, including the foods that can increase your energy levels. 

How to Stop Feeling Tired After Eating?

To stop feeling tired after eating, keep your sleep debt low, stay in sync with your circadian rhythm, and eat light and healthy meals that aren’t too high in carbs or sugar. 

Here’s more on how to make that happen: 

  • Lower your sleep debt: RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track of it as you pay it back. Head to bed a little earlier, sleep in a little later, or take short afternoon naps to lower your sleep debt and boost your energy levels across the day — not just after meals. 
  • Get in sync with your circadian rhythm: If you’re out of sync with your body clock, you’ll feel more daytime sleepiness. You can get in sync with your circadian rhythm by keeping a regular sleep schedule and eating meals during the day and at regular times. Bonus: RISE users with consistent sleep patterns have lower sleep debt than those with inconsistent sleep patterns. 
  • Eat healthy meals: Avoid junk food, simple carbs, and sugary snacks, and go for lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbs, fruits, and veggies instead. Research shows meals higher in protein are linked to less sleepiness than meals higher in fats and carbs. Plus, opt for light meals, especially lunch — one study found a heavy lunch can cause more sleepiness and poorer performance than a light lunch. 
  • Keep a food diary: If you think food allergies or sensitivities are behind your post-meal sleepiness, keep track of what food you eat and what symptoms you feel each day. This can help you figure out what, if anything, is triggering tiredness. You can also speak to your healthcare provider about allergy and intolerance tests. 

Already battling tiredness after a meal? We’ve covered how to wake yourself up here. 

Expert tip: It’s easy to blame meals for your tiredness, but it can very easily be your sleep — or lack of it. In fact, you may need more sleep than you think. 

The amount of sleep you need each night is called your sleep need, and this number is different for each of us. 

We looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up and found the median was eight hours. But 48% of users need eight hours or more sleep a night. And some even need 11 hours 30 minutes! 


We looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up and found the median was eight hours. But 48% of users need eight hours or more sleep a night. And some even need 11 hours 30 minutes!
The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need.

You may be feeling extra sleepy after meals because you’re not meeting your sleep need. 

To find out, RISE can work out how much sleep you need based on a year’s worth of phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.

Is it Normal to Feel Sleepy After Eating?

Yes, it’s normal to feel sleepy after eating to some extent. More research needs to be done, but it’s probably caused by high sleep debt, a natural drop in energy as part of your circadian rhythm, or a high-carb or high-calorie meal. You may also be tired due to multiple factors, or factors that are difficult to diagnose, such as a medical condition or sleep disorder. So finding the underlying cause, or causes, of your sleepiness after eating can be tricky. 

Try lowering your sleep debt, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, and eating light and healthy meals to feel less tired after eating. 

If you have uncontrollable tiredness after a meal, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can run tests for underlying medical conditions or allergies that may be to blame. 

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Why is it Bad to Eat Before Sleeping?

It’s bad to eat before sleeping as eating close to bedtime can keep you up or wake you up in the night, causing sleep deprivation. 

Eating and then laying down too soon can cause digestive issues, like acid reflux, which can keep you awake. And eating lowers your arousal threshold, which is how easily you can be woken up from sleep. So even if you can drift off soon after a meal, you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night

Science backs this up. Research shows high-calorie food intake about 30 to 60 minutes before bed can increase how long it takes you to fall asleep. And a 2021 study found eating an hour or less before bed makes it more likely you’ll wake up in the night.  

Eating can also change the timing of your circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm is out of whack, from eating late at night or during the night, you may experience low energy, trouble sleeping, and health issues like diabetes and obesity. 

Eating before bed can also lead to weight gain, and all of the adverse health effects that come with it. 

How Long Should I Wait to Sleep After Eating?

You should wait two to three hours to sleep after eating. This should give your digestive system enough time to get to work so that gastrointestinal issues don’t keep you awake. 

Avoiding meals in the late evening can also help to keep your circadian rhythm in check, which will benefit your sleep, energy levels, and overall health and well-being. 

For more on the science behind meal timing, we’ve covered what time you should stop eating before bed here.

And to help you master your meal times, RISE can tell you when to have your final meal each day based on the timing of your circadian rhythm.

RISE app screenshot showing you when to have your last big meal
The RISE app can tell you when to stop eating each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late meals reminder. 

Does Sleeping After Eating Affect Weight Loss?

Sleeping after eating can affect weight loss. Here’s why: 

  • Eating close to bedtime can keep you up, and a 2022 study shows sleep deprivation can lead to eating more calories, gaining more weight, and putting on belly fat in particular. 
  • Eating close to bedtime can mess with your circadian rhythm, and 2021 research shows this can lead to weight gain, higher blood sugar, and fattier livers. A 2019 study found circadian misalignment increases your risk of obesity and abdominal obesity
  • Eating late at night may mean you’re eating more calories or making unhealthier food choices. 

To maximize your weight loss efforts, try to be finished with dinner two to three hours before bed for the best sleep. 

Eating dinner earlier than this may help you lose more weight. Research from 2021 suggests intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating (when you eat your meals within a set window of time and perhaps cut your calories too) can help promote weight loss, improve insulin resistance, and decrease blood pressure. 

And a 2023 study found time-restricted eating was linked to getting more overall sleep and sleeping earlier. 

But more research needs to be done. We’ve covered more on intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating here. 

Expert tip: Meal timing is important, but getting enough sleep overall is key for losing weight and keeping it off. A 2023 study found those with short sleep durations were more likely to regain weight in the year after they’d lost it compared to those who got enough sleep. 

Trying to lose weight? We’ve covered more on what time you should stop eating to lose weight here and more on the link between sleep and weight loss here. 

What to Eat Before Bed?

Ideally, you would avoid eating altogether two to three hours before bed. But if you need to eat close to bedtime, opt for a light healthy meal or snack. Opt for fresh fruit, peanut butter, cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt. 

It’s best to not eat before bed as it can keep you up or wake you up in the night. But some people, like those with type 1 diabetes, may benefit from a small snack before they go to sleep because it can help to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) from disrupting sleep. 

And if you find hunger pangs wake you up in the night, try eating more during the day, or eating a small light snack before bed. Make sure your diet has enough fruits, veggies, and complex carbs to keep you fuller for longer. 

What Not to Eat Before Bed?

Ideally, you would finish your last meal of the day two to three hours before bed. But if you do need to eat before bed, avoid anything that’s high in carbs or sugar, and anything that’s fatty, fried, or spicy. High-calorie meals can also mess with sleep, so try having a smaller meal or snack instead. 

Beyond food before bed, think about what drinks you’re having, too. Be sure to avoid caffeine or alcohol, both of which can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. And avoid drinking too much water before bed, as this can lead to middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. 

Which Position Should I Sleep in After Eating?

The best position to sleep in after eating would be to not sleep at all. Instead, remain sitting or standing up and head to bed in two to three hours. But if you have had a late-night meal and need to sleep, try sleeping on your left. A 2022 study found sleeping on your left can reduce acid reflux and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

We’ve covered the best side to sleep on for digestion here. And for trying to lose weight, we share the best side sleeping positions to lose weight here. (Spoiler: there’s no magic position, the key is to get enough sleep overall). 

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How Does Sleep Affect Your Meals?

Not getting enough sleep can cause you to eat more and eat unhealthier. 

Insufficient sleep disrupts normal levels of appetite-controlling hormones in the body. When you’re sleep deprived, the hunger hormone ghrelin rises, and the satiety hormone leptin falls. The result? You eat more and feel less full. 

To make matters worse, lack of sleep impairs your brain’s prefrontal cortex. This makes impulse control more difficult and those leftover doughnuts harder to resist.

At the same time, endocannabinoids, chemical messengers that act on the brain's pleasure receptors, flood the body. Eating feels more pleasurable, which can increase cravings. 

Insufficient sleep affects not just how much you eat but also the foods you choose. You’re more likely to crave salty, carb-heavy, and sugary foods (often foods that, ironically, make you more sleepy) when you don’t get enough sleep. 

And a 2016 study showed that restricting sleep to five hours led people to eat up to 385 extra calories the following day. 

Together with the other consequences of poor sleep — like lacking the energy to exercise — sleep deprivation is a recipe for weight gain

A study published in 2022 found that sleeping for only four hours a night increased subcutaneous belly fat (the fat under the skin you can see) by 9% and abdominal visceral fat (the fat around your organs) by 11%, compared to those who slept nine hours a night.  

In summary, a lack of sleep can lead to:
  • More hunger
  • Less self-control
  • More food cravings
  • Eating more calories
  • Weight gain and belly fat gain

The good news is that you can learn how to lose weight without exercising, just by getting your sleep right.

Check RISE to see how much sleep debt you have. Got a lot? This could be affecting your hunger levels, food cravings, and weight loss efforts. 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep debt you have.

How Does Eating Affect Sleep?

Both what you eat and when you eat affect your sleep. Healthy meals at regular times that are not too close to bedtime can help you get the sleep you need. But unhealthy meals at night or late at night can make it harder to get enough sleep. 

Here’s what science has to say on that. 

What You Eat 

A 2022 study found “diets rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory nutrients and lower in saturated fat (eg, Mediterranean diet) were associated with better sleep quality.” Diets higher in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs were also linked to better sleep quality. (Although there’s no set definition for sleep quality).

Research also shows eating more fiber is linked to getting more deep sleep. And getting more of your energy from saturated fat is linked to less deep sleep. Plus, getting more energy from sugar and simple carbs is linked with waking up more in the middle of the night

Key advice: Eat a healthy diet of fruits, veggies, healthy fats, protein, and complex carbs.

When You Eat 

As we’ve already shared, you don’t want to eat too close to bedtime as this can keep you up or cause you to wake up in the night. You also want to avoid eating during the night, if possible. 

Research from 2021 found that eating at night worsens glucose intolerance and can cause you to get out of sync with your circadian rhythm, which can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Eating during the day, even if you have to be awake at night for night shifts, can stop this from happening.

Key advice: Aim to be done with dinner two to three hours before bedtime. Try to eat all of your meal times at regular times and during the day.

Feel Less Sleepy After Eating

Feeling sleepy after eating is normal. But you will feel more tired if you’ve got high sleep debt, you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or you’ve had a high-carb or high-calorie meal. 

The RISE app can reduce your post-meal drowsiness. The app works out how much sleep you need and how much sleep debt you have, so you can work to lower it. RISE also predicts your circadian rhythm each day, so you can get in sync with it and see when your natural dips in energy will be each day. 

Lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm will boost your energy levels, both after meals and throughout the day as a whole. 

And to help you get a good night’s sleep, RISE can tell you when to finish up your final meal by each day.   

It doesn’t take long to see the effects — 80% of RISE users feel more energy within five days.

FAQs

What happens if you sleep after eating?

If you sleep directly after eating, you'll probably encounter indigestion, heartburn, and other digestive problems that disrupt nighttime sleep. You also increase your risk of unhealthy weight gain, obesity, and poor health over time.

Is it bad to sleep after eating?

It can be bad to sleep after eating. Sleeping after eating doesn't give your body enough time to digest the food, inciting digestive problems like heartburn and acid reflux. It's recommended to wait at least two to three hours before you go to bed after a meal.

Can I sleep one hour after eating?

Sleeping one hour after eating doesn't give your body enough time to digest the food, inciting digestive problems like heartburn and acid reflux. It's recommended to wait at least two to three hours before you go to bed after a meal.

How long should you wait to sleep after eating?

You should wait two to three hours to sleep after eating. That should give your body enough time to start digesting food, so issues like acid reflux and bloating don’t keep you awake.

Why do I fall asleep after eating?

You may fall asleep after eating due to being sleep deprived, experiencing a natural dip in energy as part of your circadian rhythm (this happens in the afternoon and late evening), or because you’ve had a high-calorie, sugary, or high-carb meal.

How do I stop feeling sleepy after eating?

Stop feeling sleepy after eating by eating lighter and healthier meals with more protein and less sugar and simple carbs. Lower your sleep debt and get in sync with your circadian rhythm to feel more energy after meals and overall.

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