Food coma: causes, symptoms and prevention

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People often use the term “food coma” to describe feeling drowsy or decreased energy levels after eating. However, the medical term for this response is postprandial sleepiness.

Researchers don’t understand exactly what causes postprandial sleepiness. This can happen as a natural biological reaction to the body’s digestion of food, or there may be other reasons the person is sleepy.

This article discusses the possible causes of postprandial sleepiness, how people who often feel drowsy after eating can deal with fatigue, and when to contact a doctor about symptoms.

Postprandial sleepiness, which many colloquially describe as an eating coma, refers to the feeling of fatigue, drowsiness, or decreased energy levels that can occur shortly after eating a meal. Postprandial means after eating, while drowsiness means drowsiness.

People with postprandial sleepiness may experience the following symptoms after eating:

  • drowsiness or drowsiness
  • low energy levels
  • lack of focus or focus

Symptoms may last a a few hours or more.

There are different theories about what causes food comas, ranging from the types of food a person eats during a meal to changes in the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep patterns. Below, we take a look at some of the most popular postprandial sleepiness theories and the science behind them.

The type of food

Meals high in carbohydrates can help the body absorb tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to create serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep, digestion, and mood, which may explain this common feeling of happiness, drowsiness, and fullness after meals.

Foods high in protein also contain tryptophan, so eating meals high in protein and carbohydrates may be more likely to make you feel drowsy after eating.

A 2021 study of Chinese truck drivers found that those who ate mainly vegetables and staple foods, such as grains, dairy and eggs, were less likely to demonstrate unsafe driving techniques than drivers. drivers who ate mainly meat and fish, rich in protein. . Researchers suggest that this could be due to the underlying differences in fatigue after eating.

Foods high in tryptophan include:

  • lean poultry, such as chicken and turkey
  • fish
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Milk
  • nuts and seeds
  • Egg whites

Foods high in carbohydrates include:

  • refined or highly processed foods, such as white bread, pastries, and sodas
  • starchy foods, such as pasta, potatoes, and rice
  • grains, including oats and quinoa

The size of the meal

Research into the sleep patterns of fruit flies has found that sleep is much more likely after a large meal than after a small meal, especially if that meal was high in protein or salt.

The larger the meal, the longer it takes for the digestive system to absorb all the nutrients. Blood sugar will also rise, which can cause energy levels to drop soon after.

A 2019 study on the diet of 52 Brazilian truck drivers supports this theory. Researchers found that those who ate a “careful” meal were less likely to feel drowsy after eating than those who ate large meals.

Time of day

Eating a big breakfast often makes people sleepy in the afternoon. Perhaps the reason is that the effort required to digest a large meal also coincides with the body’s natural drop in energy.

This drop in energy is due to the circadian rhythms of arousal, which plunge between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. the afternoon before a boost in the evening. This natural drop in arousal can combine with the body’s tendency to feel drowsy after a heavy meal.

Blood flow

In a small 2018 study involving people who skipped breakfast, participants experienced a sudden drop in blood flow to the brain shortly after lunch, causing levels of daytime sleepiness to increase.

After a meal, the body must concentrate on digesting food so that more blood moves to the digestive system and away from the brain. This change in circulation can trigger feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, or drowsiness soon after eating.

Ancient and primitive instinct

Ultimately, some connoisseurs believe that feeling drowsy after a meal is an instinctive human trait that our cave, hunting and foraging ancestors passed on. It is possible that humans are programmed to be vigilant during times of hunger to help them locate food and relax and sleep once they find and eat the food.

There is no treatment for postprandial sleepiness, but a person can take steps to increase their sense of alertness after eating, especially during the day. People can try the following to help prevent fatigue after a meal:

  • Take a walk outside after eating: Light helps to augment alertness and mental function during the post-lunch dip, while physical activity is great for overall health.
  • Eat smaller portions more often: Smaller but more frequent meals will help keep energy levels stable, avoiding larger drops.
  • Take an afternoon nap: Research has shown that rapid sleepiness after lunch can improve cognitive performance for the rest of the afternoon.
  • Balance meals: Eating meals high in carbohydrates or protein in the afternoon and increasing the vegetable portion of a meal can help prevent energy dips.
  • Sleep more at night: Sticking to a sleep schedule and getting enough hours of quality sleep each night can help reduce fatigue during the day.
  • Keep a food journal: Keeping a note of the foods that are most likely to cause drowsiness can help people avoid them during the day or eliminate them from their diet.

Various underlying conditions can cause excessive fatigue and fatigue. Among these are:

People who experience overwhelming fatigue that does not improve with sleep or rest should discuss their symptoms with a doctor.

Postprandial drowsiness can occur due to the body’s attempts to digest certain types of food or larger portions than usual. Alternatively, it can be an ancient human trait that is rooted in people’s ancestral DNA.

Whatever the reason for the food coma, there are simple steps people can take to avoid feelings of lethargy and drowsiness after meals. These include reducing portion sizes, eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, getting more exercise, and sleeping.

People who continue to experience fatigue throughout the day should see a doctor to identify any underlying conditions.


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