Sunday, 15 July 2012

5 steps to reducing sleepiness after lunch

There are really two main things that cause tiredness after a heavy lunch.  Firstly the food you have eaten diverts your blood to the stomach for the digestion process.  This leaves less blood and oxygen for brain functioning, rendering you less alert.  Secondly sugary foods increase the blood sugar levels more than normal, causing your pancreas to release insulin.  This insulin triggers tryptophan, which gets converted into serotonin in your brain.  And serotonin is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy.

Below are five things that will all but eradicate drowsiness after eating:

#1: Minimize carbohydrates during lunch

Sugar and flour should be avoided as far as possible.  Buns, croissants, cakes, potatoes and pasta are all energy sappers.  Now practically speaking you can't avoid these things altogether, especially when you pack lunch for work, but it's about minimizing these foods rather than not eating them at all.  Having pasta with potato followed by a croissant is the type of combination that will knock you out harder than Mike Tyson, for instance.

The following are low carb alternatives to potatoes and bread (courtesy of Wikihow):
Sprouts, green beans, lettuce, mustard greens, radicchio, bok choy, sea vegetables, cabbage, mushrooms, radishes, celery, avocado, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, summer squash, zucchini, bamboo shoots, onions, tomatoes, artichokes, carrots, water chestnuts, pumpkin.

Carbohydrates may seem different to sugar but they ultimately get converted into sugar during digestion, meaning your body will then follow the same insulin-tryptophan-serotonin process as it will with conventional sugar when you eat foods like bread or pasta.

#2: Just eat less, eat more often

The Okinawan islands contain the world’s largest population of centenarians: nearly 600 out of its 1.3 million inhabitants live past 100. Okinawans practice a dietary philosophy called hara hachi bu – meaning eight parts out of ten full.  So essentially they eat until they are 80% full, not when their stomachs can't take any more like most people do.

The notion of eating three meals a day is an archaic one.  Most people put on a weight loss diet by a personal trainer are told to eat five smaller meals per day rather than three larger ones.  For the purposes of losing weight, your body is able to metabolize food better when it's consumed in smaller portions resulting in less stored fat.  For the purposes of staying awake, less food per meal means less sugar and thus less serotonin.  The sugar spike from a smaller meal is more manageable and by the time your next meal comes the previous meal is digested anyway.  So the message is simple: eat smaller portions more often.

#3: Take a stroll after lunch

Stretch, take a walk, do anything physical after eating.  Light exercise after eating will get your blood flowing and will help to ward off fatigue.

#4: Don't have coffee

Caffeine may give a temporary boost immediately after your cup of coffee, but the subsequent crash will leave you even more tired once the caffeine wears off.  On top of that, the effect of caffeine on you reduces the more you drink it.  Caffeine is addictive too, so best to avoid coffee after lunch.  If you're thirsty, drink water.

#5: Eat these snacks if you're still hungry

Finally, eat fruit, nuts and wholegrain crackers instead of chocolate or crisps if you still feel slightly peckish after lunch. They're low in carbohydrates and sugar.  Remember, staying awake after eating is about preventing sugar spikes yet keeping your sugar levels steady.  

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