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The science behind ‘food comas’

man sleeping

After a huge meal, sometimes we want to just go and sleep and we feel generally a bit useless, however scientists from the Scripps Research Institute may actually have an explanation behind the phenomenon. 

Little was known about ‘food comas’ until recently, when researchers looked at the science behind it. Professor William Ja, leader of a study looking at how eating affects our sleep, explains that different foods play different roles in physiology, but there has not been enough research on the immediate effects of eating on sleep.

The researchers used the common fruit fly as a mode, due to the well-documented sleep metabolism interaction where flies don’t sleep and move more when they are hungry.

They found that after eating, the flies slept more for a short period before returning to normal wakefulness. How they reacted changed with different amounts of food, as flies that ate more slept more.

“In humans, high sugar consumption provides a quick boost to blood glucose followed by a crash, so its effect on sleep might only be observed beyond the 20 to 40 minute food coma window.”

The fact that larger-sized meals increased sleep in fruit flies may also have parallels in human behavior—it’s known that electrical activity increases in the brain with meal size and during certain stages of sleep. Salt consumption also influences sleep in mammals..

“Using an animal model, we’ve learned there is something to the food coma effect, and we can now start to study the direct relationship between food and sleep in earnest,” Ja said. “This behavior seems conserved across species, so it must be valuable to animals for some reason.”

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