Science Of...

Why Do You Get Sleepy After You Eat?

Excited for the August 21 eclipse? Visit our Eclipse 2017 page to explore the science, history, and myths of the event. The Curiosity team will be viewing the eclipse alongside NASA in Carbondale, Illinois. Follow us on Facebook for live videos, trivia, and interviews on the big day.

Anyone who ever got stood up for a date and soothed themselves by eating a whole basket of breadsticks knows how bad a food coma can be. But why does eating make you so sleepy? It's not exactly a HIIT cardio routine. It's all about the chemicals — and not just the ones in your pasta alfredo.

Tryptophan's Partner In Crime

Food comas don't really make any sense, when you think about it. Eating is supposed to give you energy, so why would you get tired after dinnertime? As it turns out, it all comes down to what and how much of it you're eating. Tryptophan is probably the best-known culprit of post-nummies naps, and its most notorious hang-out is in Thanksgiving turkey. The only thing is, tryptophan on its own is a long way from the complete picture.

Some studies have found that an influx of carbohydrates has a much greater effect on your sleepiness than turkey ever could alone. A plateful of potatoes will cause your blood sugar to spike and then fall, and when it does, you'll crash hard. Moreover, if the meal you're eating has both carbohydrates and tryptophan-rich foods, the effects combine — the carbs essentially clear the path for the tryptophan to reach your brain and slow you down. Turkey sandwich? Good night, amigo. Don't think cutting out turkey will solve the issue, either. A lot of common foods have as much or more tryptophan, including mozzarella, bacon, and soybeans.

L-Tryptophan (Trp, W) amino acid molecule.

Wakey Wakey, Eggs (No Bakey)

So we've got a recipe for sleepy times. But if you're hungry and you've got to keep your energy up, what should you put on the menu? Rule one is moderation. Big portions inevitably lead to big crashes. But once you've got sensible sizes down, try these snacks for a little boost.

  • Oatmeal: Yes, it's carbs — that's where moderation comes in. But oatmeal also has the benefit of being slow-burning. Instead of rushing through the peak and crash, it'll keep you rolling all morning long.
  • Beans: A cup of beans is packed with protein, and will leave you feeling full and satisfied. Better yet, it will stabilize your blood sugar levels so you can keep up a steady pace all day.
  • Almonds: These nutrient-rich nuts contain both Vitamin B and magnesium — the latter of which has been linked to an improved metabolism while exercising.
  • Eggs: Also full of protein, eggs give you a jumpstart in the morning with heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. But you might want to skip the bacon if you need to stay alert.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Healthy Eating

Breakfast Equals Energy

Are Healthy Foods REALLY More Expensive?

Share the knowledge!

Healthy Eating Doesn't Have to Be Gross

If you liked this you'll love our podcast! Check it out on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, search 'curiosity' on your favorite podcast app or add the RSS Feed URL.

Advertisement