Science Says Post-Meal Food Comas Are Real

If you’re planning on chowing down on turkey this Thanksgiving (as you should), make sure to time your meal just right, because you may be well into a nap before the Cowboys-Redskins game kicks off.

If you’re planning on chowing down on turkey this Thanksgiving (as you should), make sure to time your meal just right, because you may be well into a nap before the Cowboys-Redskins game kicks off. A new study in the journal eLife suggests that higher protein and salt consumption leads to longer naps.

Turkey has long been blamed for post-meal naps due to the fact that in contains the amino-acid L-tryotophan, which produces melatonin and serotonin. However, turkey has about the same amount of L-tryotophan as other meats, as discussed in Time. But, research from The Scripps Research Institute may shed some light on why catching some z’s before dessert feels necessary.

Many people have experienced a “food coma,” yet little data is available on the phenomenon. A team of researchers found a way to actually study it by using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Similar to humans, “In Drosophila, there is a well-documented interaction between sleep and metabolism, whereby flies suppress sleep or increase their activity when starved,” senior author, William Ja, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Metabolism and Aging at Scripps Florida, said in a news release.

The team developed the first system to track food consumption and motion for fruit flies, called the Activity Recording CAFÉ (ARC). The flies were given food with either protein, salt, or sugar. It turns out that only protein and salt influenced post-meal sleep. The sleep typically lasted from 20 to 40 minutes and larger portions generally resulted in a longer sleep.

“The protein link to post-meal sleep has been mostly anecdotal, too, so to have it turn up in the study was remarkable,” Ja said.

Research has shown that leucokinin (Lk) neurons play a role in meal-size regulation, and this study not only supported that understanding, but indicated that the neurons are necessary to initiate post-meal sleep.

“By using genetic tools to turn neurons on and off in the fly brain, we were surprised to find a number of circuits that play a role in controlling this behavior,” explained first author, Keith Murphy, a graduate student at Scripps Florida. “While we expected that flies defective in protein sensing would experience post-meal sleep in a similar way to those fed only sucrose, we found instead that they had a waking response.”

While this study was conducted using fruit flies, the researchers said that the results can be applied to humans as well.

“Our analysis suggests that ingested protein promotes both sleep and wakefulness, and that the wakefulness is counterbalanced by Lkr neuronal activity,” Murphy concluded.

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