- Falling asleep after eating could be a sign of diabetes, but it's important to visit a doctor for a complete workout to rule out all possible causes.
- High blood sugar or blood sugar fluctuations could contribute to fatigue.
- Sleep disruptions, stress, inflammation, or medication side effects are all possible reasons why people with diabetes may feel more tired.
Fatigue can be a complex and challenging topic to study. It may be due to a particularly stressful or busy life stage, but it could also signal something more. If you consistently feel tired and fall asleep after eating, it's time to look closer at what's happening in your body.
Studies suggest that fatigue can often be the only presenting symptom for someone before they are diagnosed.
Falling asleep after eating does not automatically mean you have diabetes, but it does mean that you should be evaluated.
There are several reasons why diabetes and fatigue are linked, including physical and psychological reasons. Here's what to know about the link between diabetes and fatigue, plus tips to feel less drowsy after meals.
How Does Food Affect Blood Sugar?
Carbohydrate-containing foods—including bread, cereals, grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables—break down into a simple sugar called glucose.
Glucose enters the bloodstream from your small intestine to be used as energy or stored for later.
Blood sugar levels are carefully maintained by a hormone called insulin. Insulin's job is to unlock your cells to absorb glucose.
People with diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or their cells don't respond appropriately, resulting in high blood sugar.
How quickly your blood sugar rises and drops depends on a few factors, but a significant one is meal composition.
Foods high in simple carbohydrates or sugar—candy, juice, cookies, baked goods—break down and raise blood sugar quickly.
As this rush of glucose enters the bloodstream, your body compensates by releasing insulin to bring your blood sugar back within a normal range.
This process of rapidly rising and falling blood sugar levels (what some call a "blood sugar crash") is what the body is designed to do to maintain blood sugar, but it can also lead to fatigue and even influence sleep quality.
On the other hand, eating high-fiber, complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables take longer to digest, so blood sugar has more of a gentle rise and fall instead of a quick spike which may help minimize the impact on energy levels.
If you want to better understand how foods impact your blood sugars, consider booking a virtual nutrition appointment with a Nourish registered dietitian.
Is Falling Asleep After Eating a Sign of Diabetes?
Falling asleep after eating sugar, or any food, could be a sign of diabetes, but it's not the only symptom. Significant fatigue—to the point where you need to lie down after a meal—is important to explore with your doctor to get a complete workup.
The connection between diabetes and fatigue is often assumed to be related to blood sugar control. Fatigue is a high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) symptom, but the relationship is likely more complex.
Fatigue and Blood Sugar
As you learned above, your cells use glucose for energy, so if glucose remains in the blood, unable to enter the cells, you can experience fatigue. If diabetes progresses without treatment, complications can lead to lower-than-normal energy levels.
However, studies on high blood sugar and fatigue are mixed.
A study examining people with diabetes found a relationship between high blood sugar and fatigue, but only for those with high blood sugar.
People with blood sugar in their goal range still noted fatigue, but it appeared to be related to other diabetes symptoms or stress about living with a disease and not necessarily due to blood sugar.
Another study found no relationship between blood sugar and fatigue, although the researchers suggested that using HbA1c, a three-month average of blood sugar levels, may not give enough information about day-to-day fluctuations. In other words, blood sugar spikes and drops could influence daily energy levels even if the average blood sugar numbers appeared normal.
Contributing Factors for Fatigue in Diabetes
- Poor sleep quality.
- Side effects from medications.
- Chronic pain.
- Stress of managing a chronic disease.
- Nutritional deficiencies or intolerances.
Other Signs of Diabetes
There aren't many early signs of diabetes, primarily because you can't necessarily feel it when your blood sugar is high.
It's estimated that more than one in three adults living in the US have prediabetes—a reversible condition where blood sugar is high but not high enough to be considered diabetes—and 80% of those who have prediabetes don't know it.
It's important to test blood sugar at annual physicals so you can keep tabs on blood sugar.
If diabetes progresses untreated, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to blood vessels, which can lead to symptoms such as:
- Frequent urination.
- Increases hunger and thirst.
- Poor wound healing.
- Tingling/numbness in hands and feet.
- Weight loss.
Any of these require a visit with your healthcare provider to assess for diabetes.
Alternate Reasons for Falling Asleep After Eating
Many health conditions can also make you feel tired, including:
- Sleep apnea.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Autoimmune conditions.
- Food sensitivities.
The difference is that most of these conditions constantly cause fatigue, not just after eating. If you feel fine overall but occasionally need a nap after lunch, it's less likely related to a health condition and more about lifestyle or food habits.
Ways to Reduce Post-Meal Drowsiness
If you've visited your doctor and ruled out any underlying health conditions (or even if you have a diagnosis) but still feel tired after eating, here are some tips to try:
- Balance your meal by pairing carbs with fat and protein. These nutrients help regulate your blood sugar by slowing the rate of digestion to reduce post-meal fatigue.
- Eat regularly throughout the day. Eating regularly spaced meals throughout the day can help maintain stable blood sugar but also decreases the chance you show up to a meal so hungry that you overeat. Skipping meals can have the opposite effect.
- Increase fiber intake. High-fiber foods are digested slowly, which may help stabilize energy levels.
- Take a walk after meals. Post-meal exercise increases insulin sensitivity, and movement is linked to better energy levels.
- Prioritize sleep. This one may seem obvious, but adequate rest is foundational for blood sugar balance and often overlooked. Aim for 7-9 hours per night, and make sure you have a regular bedtime routine to practice good sleep hygiene.
If you aren't sure how to start making these positive changes, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian. Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers.
When to Talk to a Doctor About Diabetes Symptoms
Any unexplained fatigue warrants a visit to your doctor, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as weight loss, excessive thirst or urination, or slow-healing cuts or bruises.
It's also important to talk with your doctor if you have been feeling increasingly tired over time, even after following a healthy lifestyle.
Fatigue is a common symptom associated with diabetes. It's not the only culprit—many lifestyle and medical factors can affect your energy levels—but high blood sugar levels may be part of the explanation for feeling tired after meals.
Blood sugar fluctuations can contribute to fatigue, even for people without diabetes.
Feeling tired after meals does not automatically mean you have diabetes, but it's essential to explore the causes with your doctor.
Managing Diabetes with an RD
An RD provides evidence-based nutrition counseling to help you make positive changes safely and effectively to support healthy blood sugar and improve your energy throughout the day. Get started now.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
- Covered by insurance
- Virtual sessions
- Personalized care