We’ve all experienced it: you go out for a nice lunch with plenty of energy, only to return to work constantly yawning and fighting the urge to rest your head on your desk. Afternoon sleepiness is very common, and you may wonder, “Is my food what causes me to get so sleepy?” While a full stomach may not help matters, the reality is that your circadian rhythms and homeostatic sleep drive may be more to blame than that burger you ate for lunch.

Homeostatic Sleep Drive

After being awake for a long period of time, our body’s sleep homeostasis alerts us of our need for sleep. This manifests as a gradual build-up of a chemical within the brain, called adenosine. The longer we stay awake, the more adenosine that accumulates in our system. This leads to an increased desire for sleep. While this adenosine does reach its peak right before bedtime, it is also higher in the afternoon hours compared to the morning. This abundance of adenosine in your system is often responsible for the afternoon sleepiness you experience.

Circadian Rhythm

The second process that contributes to afternoon sleepiness is our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm acts as a biological clock, regulating the timing when we experience the greatest sleepiness. We experience a dip in this rhythm in the early afternoon—typically 7 to 9 hours after waking up—and we experience sleepiness. This is why we typically feel sleepy between 1 to 3 p.m.

Relieving Afternoon Sleepiness

So, although we understand why we often feel drowsy after lunch, many may still desire to explore solutions to get relief for their afternoon sleepiness. To help counteract early afternoon sleepiness, you can consume a small amount of caffeine or even take a short 10- to 20-minute nap. Although these can reduce the adenosine levels that contribute to sleepiness, caffeinated drinks or naps aren’t always possible for those with more structured work schedules or dietary restrictions. Taking a short walk or using a standing desk or balance ball to engage muscles are two alternatives for reducing afternoon sleepiness.

Sleepiness May Subside Naturally

No matter what solution you explore, it’s important to realize that afternoon sleepiness will eventually subside, and your alertness will return in a matter of hours as the circadian rhythm cycles. It’s also important to keep in mind that a healthy sleep schedule can prevent afternoon sleepiness becoming more pronounced.

Help from Our Board-Certified Sleep Physician

If constantly being sleepy after lunch is starting to affect your work performance, it may be time to talk to a physician to rule out any other underlying causes. At the Jacksonville Sleep Center, we give you undivided attention and use only the latest methods for assessing and treating your sleep condition. Contact us today to start working with our board-certified sleep physician.