What Causes Food Comas? It’s More than Just Overeating.

updated May 30, 2019
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At some point or another, everyone has experienced the classic symptoms of a food coma. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that overwhelming feeling of fullness after a buffet binge or too many servings of mashed potatoes at a family dinner. We laymen call it a food coma, but medical professionals have a name for the phenomenon: postprandial somnolence.

Medical experts agree that eating too much food results in a change in your body’s circulation.”It’s real,” Dr. Lisa Young, a nutritionist, tells the New York Daily News. “If the meal consumed is large enough, one can go into a food coma due to changes in circulation.”

Essentially, that feeling of tiredness and sluggishness is triggered once food enters your stomach. Here, the gastrointestinal tract is activated and blood flow refocuses its attention to the stomach and intestines, to help with digestion, and away from muscles and the brain. With less blood in your brain, you feel sleepy.

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The Type of Foods That Lead to Food Comas

Not only does the volume of food ingested play a part, but certain types of food can also bring about the food coma feeling faster than others. According to Dr. Young, high-carb meals with a high glycemic index will leave you feeling sluggish. This includes the likes of potatoes, white rice, and white bread.

Previous studies have also found that solids cause a drowsy effect more than liquids. “Our study found that in contrast to a liquid meal, a solid meal creates more sleepiness when compared to an equivalent volume of water,” Dr. William Orr, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, tells CNN Health.

Protein and salt are also culprits, according to a study published earlier this year. In the study, scientists looked at fruit flies and found those to consume the most protein to sleep the longest. Surprisingly, they also discovered that sugar played no role.

How Can You Avoid a Food Coma?

Food comas are usually accidental, but there are active steps you can take when you know you’re in for a heavier meal. Eat smaller portions, pick low-glycemic-index carbs, and, if you know you’ll be stuffing your face, opt for liquids over solids here and there to reduce the effects of a food coma. Also consider avoiding booze, as it can leave you feeling lethargic as well.