December 16, 2019 | Abby Caviness
With the holidays approaching, anticipation rises as your family’s holiday meal grows closer. However, often paired with this meal is the dreaded “food coma”—the feeling of fatigue causing you to want to snuggle up on the couch for a good ol’ nap. Unfortunately, this feeling—scientifically known as postprandial somnolence—is common and often takes away from spending time with family and friends or just being productive throughout a regular day. So, USHEALTH Group® wants to help you understand why your body is feeling this way and provide a few tips for combatting that tired feeling we all know and hate.
Why Do I Go Into a Food Coma After I Eat?
There are a few factors that can contribute to the drowsiness you feel after eating: your digestion cycle, diet, sleeping habits, physical activity, and other health conditions.1 For example, the human body’s digestive cycle can trigger several responses, including increased levels of serotonin and melatonin, which can cause drowsiness. In addition, foods high in carbohydrates and protein will cause individuals to feel more tired after eating.1
As for your sleeping habits, it may not come as a shock to you to know that not getting enough sleep will cause you to be drowsier after eating. So, getting more sleep may help with your post-meal sleepiness. Then, pairing this with consistent exercise will also help you to remain alert throughout the day because a sedentary lifestyle can lead to increased fatigue and having less energy.1
Lastly, there are rare occasions when drowsiness after eating could be the sign of an underlying health condition. Some of these conditions include:1
- Food intolerance or food allergy
- Sleep apnea
- Underactive thyroid
- Celiac disease
Overall, feeling a bit tired after a meal is completely normal. Odds are, your body is just reacting to all the changes happening during digestion. However, if the feeling worries you, you can ask your healthcare provider for guidance.
How Do You Cure a Food Coma?
During the holidays, it can be frustrating to feel groggy after a meal when all you want to do is spend time with your family and friends. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take that may help you overcome that dreaded drowsiness. These possible remedies include:2
- Drinking water
- Eating a light breakfast the morning after
- Going for a walk
- Drinking a cup of mint or cinnamon tea
- Only eating small meals the day after you overeat
- Increasing your fruit and veggie intake
- Avoiding alcohol
- Trying a yoga twist pose
- Drinking black coffee
- Throwing a dance party to shake off your tiredness
Incorporating some of these tips into your day will ensure you have all your energy to maximize your time with friends and family. In fact, you may start a new tradition: the annual post-meal dance party.
How Can I Prevent a Food Coma?
If you happen to have some forethought, there are some steps you can take that may prevent you from feeling any fatigue. This way, you can continue throughout your day without worrying about how to get rid of your tiredness. These prevention tips include:3
- Eating smaller meals that include liquids
- Getting enough sleep
- Balancing your macronutrients
- Controlling your portions
- Getting active after your meal
Test driving a few of these tips may allow you to avoid that midday slump you get after eating. Then, you can gain back the productivity and energy levels you lost and begin living your best life!
Is Postprandial Somnolence Bad?
Feeling tired after a meal full of protein and carbs is completely normal, according to Healthline.1 However, if your drowsiness becomes a reoccurring issue that gets in the way of your productivity, there may be an underlying health issue. Keeping a food diary may help you identify which foods cause you to feel more tired than others, or you may want to visit your health care provider to explore what could be causing the consistent decrease in your energy level after eating.1
Your health care provider will be able to administer a number of diagnostic tests to help you find the root of your fatigue, including:1
- A glucose tolerance test
- The hemoglobin A1C test
- A blood glucose test (fasting or random)
- Blood or skin tests to determine food allergies or sensitivities
Your doctor may also suggest an elimination diet.4 This process involves removing certain foods from your diet that are known for causing issues. Then, you reintroduce them back into your diet one at a time to test which food causes a reaction. However, this kind of diet should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional due to the possibility of the food allergen triggering anaphylaxis when reintroduced.4
Nevertheless, occasional fatigue after a big meal is likely the result of overeating and increased production of serotonin. Thus, there is no reason to worry. On the other hand, if your grogginess continues and inhibits you from living a healthy life, you may want to consult your health care provider for help.
What Foods Cause Food Comas?
In general, eating large meals can cause individuals to feel tired. However, there are certain types of food that are considered the main culprits. These foods are rich in protein and carbohydrates and typically make people feel sleepier than others.5 Some researchers believe this effect is caused by the increased production of serotonin in the body after eating these foods. Within protein-rich foods is an amino acid called tryptophan, which helps the body produce serotonin, and carbohydrates help the body produce tryptophan.5 Together, protein and carbohydrates make up a good recipe for making the body feel tired.
Tryptophan can be found in many foods that are rich in protein, including:5
- Soy products
In addition, foods that contain a high level of carbohydrates include:5
- White bread and crackers
- Cakes, cookies, donuts, and muffins
- Corn cobs
- Sugar and candy
So, if you struggle to stay awake after your meals, you may want to think back to what you have been eating. It may be that you are consuming foods causing this to happen and if you limit yourself to only eating these items at dinnertime, you may experience less fatigue during the day.
Is It Bad to Sleep After Eating?
If you feel you need to take a little nap after lunch or you are getting ready for bed after a late dinner, it is important to know some guidelines for sleeping after eating. For instance, your body digests food better when you are upright, making sleep an unlikely aid to digestion.6 Nutritionists recommend waiting 2-3 hours to go to bed after eating to allow your food to make it to your small intestine. This will ensure you do not experience heartburn or acid reflux while sleeping.6
Eating certain foods before bedtime may also harm your sleep. For example, spicy food, acidic food, chocolate, and peppermint are more likely to cause heartburn and acid reflux. In addition, foods and drinks containing caffeine—like coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate—may interrupt sleep because they block the chemical in your body that makes you feel sleepy.6
So, if you can avoid it, try to wait to sleep until enough time has passed for your body to digest your meal. This way, when you do sleep, it will be uninterrupted and truly restful.
While that dreaded food coma is not necessarily “bad,” giving in to its spell can have some adverse effects on your sleep and digestion. Also, if your fatigue is a reoccurring problem, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. In this case, you will want to visit your healthcare provider for advice. However, this is often not the case and you can take steps that may prevent or decrease your fatigue. This way, you will be at your full potential to tackle every-day tasks or—during the holidays—spend all the quality time your heart desires with your family.
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group® for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
- Butler, Natalie, “Why Do I Feel Tired After Eating?” Healthline.com, last modified April 19, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/why-do-i-feel-tired-after-eating
- Madormo, Carrie, “10 Simple Ways to Cure a Food Coma,” TasteOfHome.com, accessed December 12, 2019, https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/ways-to-cure-a-food-coma/
- Fogoros, Richard N., “Food Coma Causes and Prevention,” VeryWellFit.com, last modified July 11, 2019, https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-a-food-coma-4146427
- Raman, Ryan, “How to Do an Elimination Diet and Why,” Healthline.com, published July 2, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/elimination-diet#section1
- Weatherspoon, Deborah, “Why do people feel tired after eating?” MedicalNewsToday.com, last modified October 18, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323379.php#how-to-stop-feeling-tired-after-eating
- Peters, Brandon, “How Long to Wait Before Sleeping After Eating,” VeryWellHealth, last modified November 13, 2019, https://www.verywellhealth.com/eating-before-bed-3014981