What's behind the holiday 'food coma?' An Anchorage sleep doctor says it's more than just turkey
Chances are it's probably happened to you — the dreaded "food coma." It's what doctors refer to as postprandial somnolence — that's Latin for sleep after "late breakfast, luncheon."
"Food coma' is when you just can't stay awake after a big meal," explained Dr. Ross Dodge of Peak Neurology and Sleep Medicine.
Dodge says foods have different components: macronutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The body processes each one differently.
"If we eat different types, more carbohydrates, we get this almost overwhelming response of insulin into the body and what that does is it changes the balance of some of our energy levels. It can cause that crash that we get afterwards," Dodge said.
While food provides our bodies with energy, after a big meal, we don't tend to have much of it.
"To get the energy from the food that we eat into the cells in the body to utilize, it takes a lot of effort and a lot of work," Dodge notes.
Turkey tends to take a lot of the blame for the Thanksgiving "food coma" because it contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which plays a key role in creating the neurotransmitter associated with sleep — serotonin. But other foods have tryptophan too, including dairy products, seafood and other types of poultry. So, Dodge points the finger elsewhere.
"It probably has a lot more to do with that large scoop of mashed potatoes, the stuffing that goes along with it, and then the pumpkin pie that follows the meal," Dodge explains.
The key to warding off the "food coma," Dodge says, is building a balanced plate by mixing in plenty of protein with the carbs.
"That's going to kind of slow down that process in the body of the release of insulin, and really smooth out the curve of how that food is being processed," Dodge said.
Another one of Dodge's holiday hacks is to eat a snack containing tryptophan about 30 minutes before bed to help induce sleepiness. He recommends sliced apples with a slice of deli turkey.
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