Wondering if a food coma (drowsiness after a big meal) is real or a figment of your imagination? It’s not just you! There’s a scientific explanation for post-meal fatigue, and we’ve got some tips on how to avoid it.
It’s 1pm — you clock out at work and head down to your favorite cafe down the street. The fresh air feels amazing, and walking the couple of blocks to get to the restaurant has an invigorating effect after sitting and working for so long. You breathe deeply, and your mind wanders as you place your order and get your meal.
After eating, you sit satisfied for a moment. You didn’t even realize how hungry you were! But now, you feel sated, and a wave of contentment creeps over you. On the walk back to your office, you feel a bit more sluggish, but not overly so. You sit back in your chair and look at your computer screen, when suddenly, you can feel your eyes glaze over. Your posture slumps. All you want to do is close your eyes and put your head down, but you know you can’t, so instead you pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and tough it out.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Postprandial somnolence — a food coma — has hit you right at the time your Circadean rhythm is most susceptible to it. Food comas are not a thing of your imagination; in fact, they’re a very real part of what happens when your body processes a big meal in the middle of the day. There are a few competing theories as to exactly what causes food comas, but the prevailing wisdom suggests that a shift in blood flow from the head to the gut is to blame. This shift aids digestion, but leaves your brain a bit shorter on blood volume than usual, leading to feelings of fuzziness and fatigue.
Nobody likes the feeling of a food coma, and it’s particularly unwelcome when you can’t just take an afternoon siesta to nap it off in the middle of the day. So, how can you avoid a daily battle with the dreaded food coma in your own life? There’s a few tips that CNN Health recently identified to help you remain food coma-free.
First, consider avoiding having a huge meal in the middle of the day if you are prone to food comas. The bigger the meal, and the more it consists of solids as opposed to liquids like soups and smoothies, the more work your digestive system has to put in to process it. Step one in avoiding food comas is to change the quantities you eat — if you’re continually skipping breakfast and then gorging at lunch, you’re setting yourself up for the worst possible food coma scenario.
You might also consider taking your lunch earlier in general. Our Circadean rhythms, which naturally govern our bodies’ sleep/wake cycle, experience a very normal dip in the middle of the day from about 1 – 4pm where drowsiness is more likely to creep in. If you can have lunch at 11:45am instead of 1pm or 1:30, your body is more likely to avoid the “double whammy” of natural fatigue and big meal digestion.
So yes — the food coma is real, but you don’t have to fall victim to it every day! Follow these tips to help manage your natural energy levels throughout the day, and you’ll find yourself wanting to be facedown in the afternoon far less often!