How to beat the Sleepy state after lunch (and never miss another exam tip)

Some of my peers call the sleepiness after lunch, the “food coma”, as we slowly slip into a period of deep sleep during the next lecture. It is annoying to deal with as we can’t possibly starve ourselves during the day. Yet, we know it is important to pay attention to any exam hints that may come from the lecturer’s mouth. Eg. “This is a veeery important concept.” or “In exams, I hope you can do this” and he goes on to explain what it is. Oh dear, but the Zzz monster got the better of me and I didn’t pay attention.

While we hope to learn as much as possible in class, but after lunch, how can we possibly fight against our body’s natural response after a meal?

1. Fix your classes before lunch, or at least an hour after lunch

Simply, it is to avoid the critical time when you feel the sleepiest after lunch by arranging your classes around it. Go for alternate lecture or tutorial time slots, or have an early lunch before the next class to let the period of sleepiness pass by (usually about an hour or two).

 If you can pick the time slots, my favourite strategy is to fix lessons during the lunch hour (11am to about 2pm). So while others are standing in queues that snake around the canteen, I will be attending classes. After the main crowd is nearly gone, my class would have ended and only then will I have my lunch with nearly no queues. There will be plenty of seats too and it won’t be too noisy. The downside is that I would have to wait nearly 5 hours after breakfast before I eat again so I may have to snack in between, or have a really big breakfast.

 However, some modules may not have alternate lecture times or give you the liberty to pick your preferred timeslots. Or your class timings are fixed due to some restrictions. So you have to face the Zzz monster after lunch. For instance, I had to take a Biology module with a terrible lecture timing of 4-6pm. It is fixed so I will usually take an early lunch on those days. But if I could go for another timeslot, I rather have it early in the morning. A 4-6pm lecture is near the end of the day when I start feeling tired or be in a “going-home” mode which I can’t really focus well.

 Well, there are two more ways to stay awake or keep your focus sharp.

2. Eat wisely

Eat wisely

With a balanced meal in mind, there are few food choices in school that are low in glycemic index (GI). Part of the reason why we feel sleepy is because we eat high GI food that is rich in sugar (or glucose) and our bodies digest them easily. Conversely, low GI food are not easily digested and our bodies absorb the nutrients more gradually. Hence, eating low GI decreases the amount of sleepiness even after feeling full.

Firstly, we should know what are high GI food. Generally, white rice and fried food are the culprits. The sauces that accompany meats and vegetables are rich in sugar as well. When you must have lunch before a fixed class time slot, here are some ways to reduce sleepiness after lunch.

  • Choose brown rice over white rice

Choose brown rice

Brown rice have a lower GI than white rice. It may not be as soft as white rice, but it is more nutritious than white rice.

  • Available at
    • Mixed Vegetable stall in UTown Food Clique
    • Vegetarian stall in Engineering Canteen
  • Less gravy and sauces but more vegetables

This can be quite challenging to find in canteens as nearly everything is flavoured with sauces. But I found a stall that offers boiled vegetables with nothing else added. It comes with noodles in sauces though, but you can ask the uncle for less. Additional vegetables top-up are available!

The stall is the Chinese Noodles stall (not the chicken rice stall) in Science canteen.

  • Bring your own lunch

When all else fails, the best is to bring your own packed lunch. Not only is it fun to personalize your own meal, you also have ultimate control over what goes into your food. You totally avoid those queues and you can have your meals outside of the canteen. Best if you have like-minded friends and voila, you have a picnic!

3. Adapt to it

Exercising regularly generally helps you to be more alert throughout the day. Hence, it is a good investment to take a nice jog in the morning before coming to school, or having a good workout after school. Keeping your heart pumping and blood flowing is key to good health too.


But what do you do if you are already feeling “it” is coming? Or you forgot to ask for brown rice earlier? Fret not, as there are still backup methods to win the fight against the Zzz monster.

  • Sit in the first few rows or near the lecturer

Psychologically, you won’t want to fall asleep because many people sitting behind can see you, and sleeping in front of the lecturer is rude. So there is extra pressure to stay awake, and you know you want to.

  • Sit with your buddies

Ideally, your neighbours would help you stay awake. Or rather, you help to keep each other awake by nudging. But if your neighbours also had a wonderful meal like you did, there’s still a third option.

  • Ask questions in class

Imagine asking a silly question and embarrassing yourself in front of others. Maybe it can be answered by what the lecturer just said, one minute ago. That is not what we want. Instead, coming up with a question kicks your brain into a focused mode to recall what the lecturer just said, and what he did not explain clearly about. Or maybe a question that calls for more discussion. Ask your neighbours first to avoid embarrassing questions in front of the whole class.

Either way, even if you do not come up with any questions, the very act of thinking of a question keeps you awake. And if you do ask a question, you will naturally feel fired up to fill the room with your voice for a moment after it has always been the lecturer’s. And you will be really alert to think and check that you aren’t asking something silly.


Staying awake in class is key to staying consistent in work. Falling asleep during lecture causes you to miss out on what the lecturer just said and it could be an important explanation of a particular concept. Then, you have to play catch-up. However, there are ways to avoid falling asleep in class due to lunch by fixing classes to the times when you feel the most awake, or eating the right food and picking the front seat in class. These methods are even more useful when the lecture (or lecturer) is boring.


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