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According to Ayurveda, when your lifestyle is in sync with natural circadian rhythms, life can be but a dream, gently down the stream! When your lifestyle is out of sync with biological clocks, life can feel like a struggle—as if you are paddling upstream all day!
When I teach at Ayurvedic colleges, I always tell my students there is one question they should ask every patient: How do you feel between two and six in the afternoon? Are you crashing, craving sweets, a nap, or a coffee?
If you’re tired during this time, you most likely have a circadian clock imbalance. If afternoon tiredness only comes after eating a heavy lunch, then you likely have a digestive problem. Let’s address the digestive problem first and then tackle the more important circadian imbalance.
Fix the Food Coma First
Ayurveda simply says when one is stressed or rushed, it’s better not to eat. Basically, eating while stressed, on the run, standing up, upset, driving, or in a hurry all activate a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) response and decrease parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) activity.
Stress, particularly while eating, activates sympathetic activity that does the exact opposite of what you want: it actually slows, inhibits, and compromises the digestive system!1
The sympathetic response is how nature provides for our physiology to handle a stressful survival situation—if a lion were to chase us, we wouldn’t sit down to dine; we would need all our body’s resources to fuel us immediately to safety! The sympathetic, fight-or-flight nervous system is triggered by stress: whether chased by a lion or eating on the run, the body perceives it as fight-or-flight sympathetic stress.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite: the calming, rejuvenating, repair-and-rebuild nervous system. It is there to repair damage caused by the fight-or-flight response, full of degenerative stress-fighting hormones. After experiencing stress, the body employs the parasympathetic nervous system for calming, reparative chemistry.
Eating is a particularly important time to relax and get the benefits of the parasympathetic nervous system. Once the parasympathetic system kicks in, it triggers a major, and I mean major, digestive response. Pretty much every digestive enzyme is activated by healthy parasympathetic activity.
See also 077: Ayurveda for a Healthy Family
Here are a few reasons why it’s important to take time to eat in a calm, peaceful way:1
Parasympathetic Digestive Benefits
- Salivation begins in preparation to digest a meal.
- Responsible for tastes of food, particularly sour.
- Triggers smell response to initiate digestion.
- Triggers release of gallbladder bile.
- Stimulates bile flow.
- Stimulates pancreatic enzyme flow.
- Stimulates enzymes from small intestines.
- Stimulates HCl production in stomach.
- Stimulates pepsinogen in stomach.
- Stimulates mucus production in stomach.
- Increases peristalsis, or healthy elimination.
- Increases blood flow to digestive tract.
To learn more about how to solve the sleepy-after-a-big-meal problem, read this article first.
If taking time to relax and eat your lunch does not curb your food coma, consider a digestive strength reset. Learn how to troubleshoot your digestive weak link here.
Fix the Afternoon-Crash Circadian Imbalance
According to Ayurveda, the best time to digest is the middle of the day, when the sun is highest in the sky: the pitta or digestive time of day. Studies now suggest folks who eat breakfast and lunch lose significantly more weight (if weight loss is needed), lower blood sugar, and reduce fat in the liver than folks who eat lunch and supper or the same amount of calories between six small meals.1,2
Many studies show that timing of meals can influence weight loss or gain. One study shows that early eaters lose 25% more weight than late eaters.3 Another study concludes that a high-calorie breakfast with reduced intake at dinner is beneficial, and might be a useful alternative for management of obesity and metabolic syndrome.4
Making time to eat the major meal of the day at lunch has been an Ayurvedic requirement for millennia and is now backed by a growing number of circadian medicine studies.
Afternoon Crash: The Health Rollercoaster
According to Ayurveda, the afternoon window (2-6pm) is governed by the nervous system or vata. The brain craves the lion’s shares of the body’s fuel, to such an extent that the brain and central nervous system are considered energy hoarders in Ayurveda. While the brain takes up only 2% of the body’s volume, it consumes 20% of the glucose or sugar derived from a meal.5,6
According to Ayurveda, the biggest demand for fuel from the brain comes in the afternoon vata time of day, when the brain is craving its due. Taste sensations from lunch and the circadian digestive clocks tell the brain to expect to be fed very soon.
If you only had a salad in front of your computer; woofed down a meal in a hurry; or only had an apple, handful of nuts, or a coffee, delivery of fuel will not be sufficient to supply the brain with what it needs! In this case, somewhere between 2-6pm, you may crash.
The result is simple. The brain will trigger an emergency response due to lack of available fuel and, in short order, you crave sweets, chips, stimulants, or a nap! Having a midafternoon snack only spikes blood sugar, and what goes up must come down: by 5pm, on your drive home from work, your blood sugar is crashing and you either crave a nap or another dose of your favorite comfort food or stimulant.
This style of living creates a dangerous rollercoaster ride of your blood sugar and adrenals surging after a snack and crashing shortly thereafter. With each crash comes a degenerative stress response. Over time, with repetitive adrenal and blood sugar stress, wherever you are genetically predisposed to break down, you will.
The Afternoon Crash Prescription
- Eat enough at breakfast to comfortably get you to lunchtime without cravings.
- Make lunch the biggest and healthiest meal of the day.
- Relax or go for a short walk after lunch.
- Have a light and early supper.
- Remember to take time to relax, making each meal count.
- Avoid snacks so your biological clocks can count on being fed in circadian rhythm.
This article was originally published on Elephant Journal.