Imagine you have been craving Thanksgiving dinner for a long time: mashed potatoes, turkey, homemade stuffing, and fresh pumpkin pie. Yummy! Shortly after you finish your first plate, you begin to feel sleepy and just want to lay on the couch until the New Year. You might wonder, what is wrong with me? The post-feast sleepiness may be caused by a food coma.
Food coma, also known as post-prandial somnolence, is a phenomenon in which individuals feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to sleep after eating a large meal. Despite being a common experience for many people, the scientific understanding of food coma is limited. This article will explore the possible mechanisms behind food coma and what factors may contribute to its occurrence.
One of the main theories is that the release of insulin after eating causes food coma. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. When we eat, our bodies detect food intake and release insulin to lower glucose levels in the blood and store the excess energy as fat. However, insulin release can also lead to a decrease in glucose levels in the brain. Glucose is the essential metabolic fuel for the brain and brain neurons require constant delivery of glucose to function; reduction of brain glucose can thus result in drowsiness and fatigue.
Another theory is that tryptophan causes food coma. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many foods such as milk, cheese, meat, and nuts. When we eat foods that contain L-tryptophan, this amino acid travels in the blood from the digestive system to the brain. The brain then changes the L-tryptophan into another chemical called serotonin. The neurotransmitter serotonin–also known as the “happy hormone”– regulates mood and sleep. Increased serotonin production causes drowsiness and can result in better sleep. Thus, people with insomnia often take tryptophan supplements to improve their sleep quality.
Another possible cause of food coma is the consumption of foods high in carbohydrates or fats. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, potatoes, and bread can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. This rapid increase in blood sugar can lead to a corresponding increase in insulin release, which can result in drowsiness. Additionally, foods high in fat, such as fatty fish, cheese, and avocado can slow down the stomach-emptying process. The longer it takes the body to break down and absorb nutrients, the longer one feels full. This prolonged feeling of fullness can also cause drowsiness.
Alcohol consumption can also contribute to the development of food coma. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver and interferes with the normal production of glucose in the body. Decreased glucose production can lead to a decrease in blood sugar levels and a corresponding decrease in energy levels, which can result in drowsiness.
Each person’s food coma lasts for a varied length of time and is influenced by their eating habits, overall levels of exhaustion, sleeping patterns, alcohol consumption, meal size, and rate of digestion. Some strategies to snap out of food coma include:
- Stay hydrated
- Consume smaller portions for the rest of the day
- Do aerobic exercise (e.g., walking)
- Choose carbs that are low on the glycemic index
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Get enough sleep
In conclusion, food coma is a complex phenomenon influenced by a combination of physiological, metabolic, and dietary factors. Further research is still needed to understand the mechanisms behind food coma and to develop effective prevention strategies.
Peer Editor: Jeanna-Marie McPherson