The Two Types of Food Most Likely to Induce a 'Food Coma'

You know that super-drowsy feeling you get after a big meal? Researchers say they know the foods most likely responsible.
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Photo by: EzumeImages ©MackoFlower

EzumeImages, MackoFlower

You know that drowsy feeling you get after a big meal, like you might just pass out right there at the table? Call it a “food coma” or, more fancily, “postprandial somnolence,” but whatever you prefer to label it, researchers have now confirmed that the phenomenon is real — and may have determined the foods most likely to bring it on.

Neurobiologists at Scripps Research Institute, in Florida, and several other institutions say their research on the behavior of fruit flies indicate a connection between eating and sleeping. The researchers, led by Keith R. Murphy, devised a system for measuring the impact of food on sleepiness and found that, after consuming a great deal, fruit flies conk out for about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how much they’ve eaten, before returning to their typical wakeful state.

Delving into the neurons in the fruit flies’ brains, they found that salty and protein-rich foods were more likely to induce drowsiness, whereas sugar didn’t seem to have the same effect. The amount of food eaten and the timing of the meal also appeared to play a role. (Post-meal drowsiness was at a minimum around dusk.)

Future experiments are likely to look into the reasons for the link between eating and sleeping.

“In nature, sleep is likely a vulnerable state for animals. Thus, another challenge will be to uncover why post-meal sleep is important,” the authors wrote. “Does sleeping after a meal boost digestion? Or might it help animals to form memories about a food source, making it easier to find similar food in the future?”

Robert Huber, a neuroscientist at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University who was involved with the study, posited that it may be about how the body allocates its resources. “Clearly, protein is a very expensive commodity,” in nature, Huber told ScienceDaily. “If sleep increases your ability to resorb it, that would be a possible reason. And the same thing with salt.”

Regardless, “There’s clearly something very potent about sleep itself,” Huber said.

Given our own fondness for the snooze button, he probably doesn’t have to tell us that.

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