|photo by infinitycat|
Why do People Get Food Comas?
Have you ever just wanted to fall straight asleep after a large meal? Do your kids often curl up and fall asleep after meals? Often we call this happenstance a food coma, but the scientific term used in medical coding for it is actually post-prandial somnolence, which pretty much just means “after-meal sleepiness.” Typically, a food coma can send people who have just eaten into a drowsy state that can last from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. People used to think that blood from the brain was sent to the stomach for digestion after eating, and that this decreased blood flow from the brain was the reason for sleepiness after a meal. However, it has been proven that this does not happen at all, and that blood is diverted from muscle tissue to the stomach during digestion. Additionally, the brain is provided with adequate amounts of oxygen and blood flow in a regular fashion during digestion.
What is actually going on basically that in order to produce energy from food, some energy must be expended in order to break that food down in our digestive system. There are two specific things about this process that produces a food coma. First, the nervous system responding to digestion in the stomach will use up some energy in order to try and battle off any incoming germs or bacteria. Secondly, and this is the biggest factor in a food coma, the central nervous system will use energy break down sugars entering the blood, which is why there can be such an intense crash after a sugar high because of the amount of energy spent processing that much sugar. As food arrives in the stomach, the nervous system begins to kick in and activates the breakdown of the foods into usable energy. After eating, the body feels it has achieved its goal of attaining food and no longer must be on point to capture another meal, so some recharging is alright.
Eating foods that are higher up on the glycemic index, i.e. take less time to release sugars into your bloodstream, will cause glucose (sugar) to be metabolized quickly from the intestines into the bloodstream. To keep glucose levels stable, the pancreas delivers insulin to the bloodstream, which is what your body uses to break down sugars into energy. Insulin tells the body to absorb sugars, but it causes the body to stop processing an amino acid called tryptophan. You may have heard about tryptophan as being the reason why everyone falls asleep after large turkey dinners, but it turns out this compound is about as equally present in other meats like beef and chicken too. In any case, since tryptophan levels in the body usually stay pretty constant, the body will have an overabundance of it when insulin is delivered. This causes the brain to convert tryptophan into serotonin, which makes for that feeling of contentment you have after a good meal. Then in turn, serotonin can be converted into melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy.
If you want to avoid getting food comas, say if you need to do some work after a meal or something, you can try eating more foods that are lower on the glycemic index like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Eating smaller portions can also help prevent food comas as it will allow the stomach to more easily process it into usable energy. You can also alleviate food comas by doing physical activities after eating such as jogging, walking, yoga, or Pilates. These exercises can help move glucose into your muscle without the associated feelings of drowsiness.
About my guest blogger:
Patricia Walling is a web content designer in Washington state for
several websites regarding the field of medicine and careers in health
care. A self professed perpetual student, she finds herself drawn to
researching even the most esoteric information she comes across that
she doesn't already know something about. She likes travel, cats,
dogs, and children, and above all is interested in healthcare, its
history, and its future.