This May Be Why You Fall Into A Food Coma, According To Science
The food coma is a well-known phenomenon. Who hasnt taken a seat at the Thanksgiving table, eaten their weight in sweet potato casserole, and promptly fallen asleep in front of the TV?
It seems the after-dinner snooze consequence is real, but scientists still dont know exactly why or how stuffing our faces leads to sleepiness. Now, a recent survey on fruit flies offers some potential clues.
Turns out fruit flies like to nap after eating, tooespecially when theyve eaten snacks dinners high in protein or salt, or snacks that are just extra large.
The study, published in the journal eLife, is the first time postprandial sleep( the scientific name for a food coma) has been studied in fruit flies. Its unknown whether the findings would apply to humansbut at the least, theyre likely to shed new light on the overall relationship between eating and sleeping, the authors wrote.
To examine that relationship in fruit flies, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute recorded and analyzed the bugs food intake and motion , noting that flies tended to sleep for 20 to 40 minutes after eating. Those who eat bigger portions, and the individuals who ate protein-rich or salty solutions, generally slept the longest.( Food high in sugar didnt have as big an effect .)
The researchers also looked for specific areas in the brain that were responsible for these prolonged sleeps. By utilizing genetic tools to turn neurons on and off in the fly brain, we were surprised to detect a number of circuits that play a role in controlling this behavior, ” told lead author Keith Murphy, a Scripps graduate student, in a press release.
Some of these brain circuits also appeared to be sensitive to the flys internal clock, as post-meal sleepiness happened less around nightfall than at other hours of day. Its fun to speculate what the biological reason for this might be, tells researcher William Ja, PhD, associate professor of metabolism and aging at Scripps Florida campus.
Maybe it’s so that they can continue foraging and accumulating nutrients before sleep, Ja told Health. Or maybe that’s a peak hour for birds and frogs and other insect eaters to come out, so sleeping at twilight would be especially vulnerable for the flies.
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Ja says this discovery may eventually have implications for people, as well: It suggests that food coma are a unique type of sleep, driven by mechanisms independent of other types of shuteye.
If thats true in humen too, that entails there are potentially different targets for us to go after in the future with dietary or medication interventions to help with sleepiness or wakefulness, he says.
Studies on post-meal sleepiness in humans have been hit-or-miss, he adds; some have found an effect, but others havent. And while salt and protein have been shown to influence sleep or sleep-related hormones in people, those impacts havent been studied during a specific time period after eating.
Ja tells the fruit-fly research provides a starting point for future surveys aimed at uncovering the exact genes and circuits that enable meal sizing, protein, and salt to drive sleep.
He and his team also hope to learn more about why, exactly, post-meal sleeps are necessaryespecially since, for animals in nature, sleep is such a vulnerable state.
For me, the interesting question is, if you believe food coma is a real phenomenon and happens not only in flies, but in mammals and people too, then it must serve some important biological function, he says.
Maybe it’s just for good digestion. Or maybe running around with a belly full of food is just horribly damaging for your intestine, he continues. Whatever the function is, do we really want to go around avoiding it?
That told, if you dont want to find yourself out of commission( or too sleepy to drive) after dinner on Thanksgiving, Ja says the age-old advice likely still holds true. Eat in moderation and graze over a longer period, rather than ravine over a short time, he says.
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