Uncontrollable Sleepiness After Eating: Ditch the ZZZ’s

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Have you ever found yourself slowing into a screeching halt after a meal? You’ve come back from lunch at work and find it slightly more difficult to concentrate because it feels like tiredness has hit you with a ton of bricks. Depending on what you’ve eaten, the response your body is giving you is one that is normal. But if you’re not enjoying the lethargy, then what can you do to avoid the uncontrollable sleepiness?

Monitor what you eat and when you consume it. Avoid greasy foods, processed foods, certain sauces and be mindful of carbohydrates late at night. Regular exercise, adequate sleep and controlled coffee consumption will boost energy levels along with eating foods like beans, chicken and oatmeal.

If you want to know more about what foods can make you tired and what to do to combat that, you’ve come to the right place. Bon Appetit!

Foods to Avoid

We all know that saying, “you are what you eat.” Well, that saying holds a great deal of weight in this discussion.

Our bodies derive their energy from the food that we are giving it. If you are constantly giving your body fuel that is unhealthy for it, the more likely you are to not run at your optimum after eating a meal – even if the portion size is not large.

So your best bet is to get yourself accustomed to eating “healthy food.” So now the question is, what foods do you consider unhealthy?

The main thing is – you don’t want food that has been processed, and you especially do not want to consume these foods in large amounts. (source)

Your most sluggish days, the days that have you screaming “I NEED A BED ASAP,” over and over again in your head – those are most likely going to be the days in which you partake in things like fast food or items from the “long life” isle of the grocery store.

Now, besides what we’ve just listed, there is a slew of other foods that could be contributing to your tiredness; these are listed below.


I’ve already lost some of you with this one – almost lost myself honestly. We love our sweets and baked goods. The problem with this is, most of the sweets / baked goods we consume are high in sugar and fats that do very little for boosting our energy sources in a productive way.

So, while we love to dip our fingers in the cookie jar – let’s try to keep it to a minimum.


Or, as some people call them – condiments. I know, how are you supposed to eat your fries or your burger without any condiments? Well, the truth about condiments is that most contain an unbelievable amount of sugar and additives. Which, as you are now aware, contributes to fatigue after consumption. (source)

So, my best advice is to remain vigilant about the amount of sauce you are using – or try healthier alternatives.


For those reading this article, most likely the food we hate to love. Within the moment we are devouring our meal – we are content. The problem comes after eating.

Pasta is full of carbs, which have a direct relationship with serotonin. You see, carbs raise our serotonin levels, putting you in a state of comfort and relaxation. (source) That’s when the sleepiness hits you full force. So, be wary of the amount you consume and when you consume it (night workers reading this, we do not recommend a big bowl of spaghetti at 3am – you’ll regret it straight away!)

So there you have it, a few examples of foods that you should not be eating (or at least not overdoing it). So as we’ve just cut you deep to the core, we’re now onto the good part – what can you eat?

Energy Driven Food

As I said earlier, the food that you consume is your primary source of energy. Therefore, you need to be mindful about what you are putting in your body. Be kind to your body. Give it food that not only is a great source of energy but is full of nutrients.

One other major thing to consider when eating to maintain energy is the amount of food that you eat. Over indulging means that your body is having to work overtime in order to digest the extra food. Basically, your body is wearing itself out trying to digest your food properly and provide you with energy. Ironic isn’t it? Using energy to get energy, but that is how our body operates.

So, also remain mindful of the amount of food you are putting into your body at one time. If you are struggling with how to manage this, it would be wise to portion control and consider documenting what you eat within a food journal – like this one from Amazon.

Now, onto the good stuff. What foods will provide you with enough energy to kick your ZZZ’s to the curb? There are loads to choose from, so if I don’t cover them in this article – a quick google search or a visit to a dietician could uncover mounds of prospects. However, I will be listing a few below for some inspiration. We hope this is a great starting point for you on your transition.


Rise and Shine; it’s time for your daily dose of oats!

Eat a bowl of oatmeal and you will see an increase in your energy. Oatmeal is what is known as a complex carbohydrate; meaning, it is loaded with nutrients and fibers. These said nutrients and fiber are at the core of your energy boost. The process of digesting oatmeal is a slow one, increasing energy longevity. Meaning, you can go half of your day/shift without feeling an overwhelming sense of sleepiness and or hunger. What a combo!


Chicken is one of the best foods you can eat when looking for a source of energy. Now, don’t go and get chicken that has been processed, because that defeats the purpose. Grab yourself a piece of grilled chicken or some that are currently packaged fresh in the freezer and see where it gets you!

Chicken is a great source of lean protein, protein being a source of energy. Therefore, you can’t really go wrong with the right piece of chicken – Unless fo course you are vegetarian or vegan. In that case, you’ll like the foods suggested in these two articles respectively, Vegan Snacks to Satisfy Any Famished Night Shift Worker and Complete Night Shift Workers Guide to The Plant-Based Diet.


If you are looking for a good natural source of energy; try eating some beans. Beans are a wonderful source of energy – providing your body with needed nutrients. Much like oats/oatmeal, beans are digested at a much slower pace than most food. Meaning, it provides your body with energy that lasts over a long period of time.

For those working the night shift, I suggest leaving beans to when you have a few days off or when switching back to the day shift…

Now, please understand that the list provided above is just a small minute amount of items in a large sea of food that can be used for an energy boost. If we’ve provided you with nothing above that floats your boat, then do google energy-boosting foods for something you’d much prefer.

[VIDEO] – For me personally, protein balls, or “bliss balls” as they are often called are my go-to when I need an energy-boosting snack. This video walks you through the way I make them.

Meal Timing and Feeling Sluggish

Most people do not know this, but the time of day that you are eating could have a hand in why you feel so tired after eating.

Think about it, most people – unless you are night shifters, get up around 6 or 7am in order to make it to work on time. That means, by the time lunchtime hits – you have already been up for several hours, which depending on the level of activity within your job, can have your energy levels zapped and making you extremely famished.

For day workers, the time most people experience the ZZZ phenomenon is during lunch.

The thing that determines this is what is known as the Circadian Rhythm. As many of you know, the Circadian Rhythm is what decides whether you are going to sleep – or be awake. Now, it is typical for the Circadian Rhythm to have you awake in the early hours of the morning, as your body is refreshed from your sleep and you’ve gotten yourself some sun/light exposure telling it that you’re now ready to attack the day.

During the middle of the day, that clock that determines our sleep pattern often ticks a little too far over into the sleepy category if suddenly stop for our lunch break and start consuming foods that invoke our sleep hormones (i.e melatonin – read about it here).

Which explains why we may feel a sense of tiredness that we just can’t kick after eating certain foods or too much. So controlling your diet with the strategies above will help trick that circadian rhythm and tell your body to continue at full speed, after fuelling it the right way.

We care a lot about eating times for both energy levels and gut health. The video below explores this in more detail, giving some helpful suggestions when working odd shifts.

Other Ways to Combat Sleepiness

Now, in this entire article I have gone on and on about how what you eat plays a role in the tiredness you feel after a meal. Don’t get me wrong – eating healthy is going to be your best bet when combating sleepiness. However, there are other ways of helping yourself out in situations in which tiredness creeps up on you (no matter how healthy you ate).


For some, we’ve just received a giant eye roll – who am I to tell you to exercise? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that it works!

I am talking about some light exercise; exercise for 30 minutes or some that you can even do at your desk. This could be walking in place, doing some squats, jumping rope, maybe lifting a dumbbell or two. Anything that keeps your body in motion will help you fight against feelings of sleepiness. It’ll get your blood pumping, and may even help in the weight loss department if it’s done consistently enough.

Here are some posts which may help (and give you the motivation to work up a sweat)


Now we’ve got your attention back! Coffee is beloved by millions across the world. If drunk in moderation, coffee acts as a great boost of energy. The downfall here, (sorry), is that it can disrupt your sleep pattern if you drink it too much, or within 6 hours of bedtime. It could also cause some unwanted anxiety – so use caution if deciding to drink this daily. If you need some clarity here, this video and this post titled Night Shift and Caffeine. How To Use It Wisely will help.

Adequate Sleep

I know this probably could go without saying, but make sure that you are getting enough sleep throughout the night (7-9 hours is the recommended dose). I say this because most of us find it difficult to get the suggested dose and some don’t even scratch the surface those figures.

We have so much to do within a day, and so little time to do it – so we give up on sleep. The problem with that is that it will impact you significantly the next day when your body tries to catch up, leading to added feelings of sleepiness.

Investing in blue light-blocking glasses and a quality eye mask like the ones pictured, is a great start to getting more sleep!

We love the Manta Eye Mask! Get your here
Dan wearing swannies reading
Blue Light Blocking glasses – See the entire range here

In summary, if you’ve ever experienced uncontrollable sleepiness throughout the day, you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of us out here going through the same exact thing. The important thing is, it is only temporary and can be tamed.

At some point throughout your day you will regain your energy, and kick those lethargic feelings to the curb. As you’ve seen, there are many factors that come into play when it comes to food making you tired. However, there are just as many ways of combating that.

This sleepiness that you feel is not typically one to fret over either; however, if you feel like you should see a doctor do not hesitate to do so. There are medical conditions out there that could have a hand in how you feel. So, if you feel like you have reached a point of no change being felt or the tiredness becoming intolerable, please seek medical advice.


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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