Postprandial somnolence doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, which might explain why you probably know this phenomenon as a “food coma.”
You know the feeling – just after eating a large meal, unrelenting drowsiness sets in that no amount of stimuli can fix. And there’s no bigger meal than Thanksgiving.
Saying that, let’s take a look at some of the truths and misconceptions about this little-understood phenomenon that causes…
1. You’re Experiencing The Opposite Of Fight-Or-Flight
When you consume copious amounts of food, your brain switches focus from moving to resting, which is believed to cause both a hormonal and neurochemical switch toward restfulness. This change occurs because your body’s priority has moved to digesting all that food and turning it into energy.
This heavy feeling is essentially the opposite of the fight-or-flight survival response, where your mind releases powerful chemicals to protect you from gnarly predators.
Thankfully the only predators you have to worry about on Thanksgiving are mischievous cousins and roaming dogs looking for table scraps.
2. High Glucose Index = Low Activity
Hand and hand with the shift in neurochemistry, certain foods release sugars into your bloodstream more quickly than others. This stream of sugar means that your body has to work ever harder to divert resources to soak up all this sugar in you ever bloodstream.
This sugar rush only serves to reinforce the not-fight-and-not-flight response. These high glucose index foods include starches (potatoes, yams, and corn), fruits (cranberry sauce) and processed grains (dinner rolls)—i.e. everything sitting at your table this Thanksgiving.
3. You’re Not Experiencing Loss Of Blood Flow To The Brain
Though extra blood flows to your stomach during digestion, it’s not coming from your brain or respiratory system. The additional blood comes from your muscular system (which is the same reason that you’ll get a cramp if you run or swim after eating).
So the myth that sleepiness is a result of decreased blood flow in your brain is utterly ridiculous and, by the way, is also not one of the things that can cause an actual coma.
4. Use Your Cell Phone To Fight It With Blue Light
While nothing can completely overcome a belly full of turkey, gravy, and pie, a blue-enriched white light might give you a bit of a head start on fighting the dreaded food coma.
In a 2015 study published in the journal Ergonomics, researchers found that the presence of blue lights during daylight hours actually improved alertness among workers following their meal breaks. In other words, plugging a cooler blue-white light over the Thanksgiving centerpiece might help you rally for the third round of pie.
If that sounds like it could ruin the mood, just check your cell phone (not that we had to tell you to do that). Most electronics emit blue wavelength light that should help boost your alertness. It also makes an excellent excuse if your family asks you to socialize more.
5. Avoid Sleeping Before Your Usual Bedtime
Though the need for sleep might be overwhelming, there are serious risks associated with sleeping immediately after eating, especially after a large meal.
Your food does not metabolize the same when you’re lying down, which can lead to anything from weight gain to heartburn to acid-reflux. The worst risk, however, might be increased incidents of strokes among people who fall asleep sooner after eating.
A study from the University of Ioannina Medical School in Greece showed the correlation between sleeping after eating and increased risk of stroke though the causes remain unclear.
6. Tryptophan Is Not Completely To Blame
The bird is the word when it comes to inducing sleepiness, according to the uninformed, because of high levels of the amino acid tryptophan. Turkey, however, contains levels of tryptophan roughly equivalent to beef or chicken.
On the other hand, soybeans, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds are extremely high in the amino acid—meaning you’d be better off avoiding sushi on Thanksgiving. But the harsh truth is that the main culprit behind your sleepiness is stuffing your face like Jabba the Hut.