Food Comas

A food coma is a very common feeling after stuffing your face with too much food, but why? Why do we feel so tired after eating immense amounts of food? It may be due to the types of food we eat, or just the feeling of tiredness after eating could be a result of our brains telling us that we should be tired. Since we are aware of what a food coma is, our brains could be tricking us into thinking we are tired. This phenomenon was seen most recently in most Americans on Thanksgiving. Me personally, I was ready to go to bed at about 6pm after having my dinner. I had thought it was just because I had eaten dinner at 1 in the afternoon and my body thought it was later in the day than it actually was. But then I got to thinking as to whether there was another variable that could have made me and so many others tired on Thanksgiving.

In order to do my research best, I immediately ruled out reverse causation as the reasoning for the tiredness people experienced. Due to the aspect of time, it is impossible for tiredness later in the day make you eat a certain amount earlier in the day. Keeping the idea of chance in mind, I looked into potential third confounding variables that could explain a food coma.

Obviously, the type of food is a very significant factor in how a person feels after eating. Less healthy foods can make a person feel gross and even tired with less energy than food with more vitamins and nutrients. Focusing mainly on Thanksgiving, I decided to look into the turkey specifically because that was the one food I could assume that the majority of Thanksgiving feasters eat.


Turkey is a relatively healthy food. It is obviously very high in protein, which is important for your body to repair tissues as well as to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. These chemicals in protein certainly would not be the reason a person would feel so tired after ingesting, because they are so significant in a person’s well-being. Therefore, the high amounts of protein can be ruled out as a confounding variable.

There is a very common thought that a certain chemical in turkey is what makes people so tired on Thanksgiving. Turkey contains an amino-acid called Tryptophan. The high levels of tryptophan in turkey is what it thought the make people drowsy. However, that myth was proven false when the amount of tryptophan in turkey was compared to that in other meats. All meats have very similar amounts of tryptophan in them, so it is thought that the foods eaten alongside turkey, especially on Thanksgiving, is what makes people so tired. The majority of the sides offered at a Thanksgiving meal are carbohydrates which when breaking down make the body feel very tired.

Like I said earlier, the time of day that people eat Thanksgiving dinner is much earlier than that of a usual dinner. With that in mind I thought that maybe the time of day could be a reason people get so tired after eating large amounts of food. However, this was difficult to research because there were no studies that controlled for the time of day people eat and the result that has on a person’s sleeping habits.

Overall, the takeaway is that especially on Thanksgiving, the abundance of food digested and the time of day are both potential reasons as to why people feel so tired on Thanksgiving. In terms of food comas in general, the same theories may apply, however not a significant amount of research has been done because there are so many potential confounding variables. In order for a study to be conducted, scientists would have to control for the foods eaten, the amount, the person’s health, etc.

3 thoughts on “Food Comas

  1. Luyi Yao

    This is my first time to know “Food Comas”. Personally speaking, I think I have experienced tired after eating immense amounts of food. From my perspective, people always spend a large amount of energy in preparing thanksgiving. So actually it consumes much energy. Also, I think eating is a way to consumes energy. What’s more, I think intaking large amount of food need our digestive system work hardly to consume food well. Therefore, we feel tired after thanksgiving dinner.

  2. ljj126

    Great Read! It makes a lot of sense as well, the research was able to rule out a lot of variables that might not have been accounted for from the initial research question. I having an anecdote can help provide evidence to support the findings. I at one point in time was on a weight loss kick, I would restrict calories carbs and sugar al through the week and work out pretty hard running 5 miles a day and lifting. I would do this for 6 days a week, and on one day of the week I would “cheat”. I would eat as much as I wanted and I would eat anything. And I did just that, it was all types of food, sweets, carbs, protein, veggies… just like thanksgiving I would eat till I was totally stuffed. Then the food “coma” would hit me and I would be dead to the world! So, it makes total sense where the research is going, Im sure there are factors that are not accounted for but its so interesting to think about. There is also so myth busting happening providing evidence that turkey is not to blame for the amount of car accidents after thanksgiving.
    I Know I have heard on numerous occasions that turkey is to blame for these accidents, but the clearly other factors were left out of those studies.
    Thanks for the read!

  3. Daniel J Lehecka

    I think a large reason that people feel especially tired on thanksgiving is that it’s a long day of preparing the food and it’s also a holiday centered around being relaxed. People are willing to take a little time out to sleep when the whole day is void of actual tasks to complete. Because I’ve never cooked for Thanksgiving I can’t say that I’ve noticed myself being particularly more tired on that night then I would be on any other, but I am aware that it’s a phenomenon many people experience. I think that there’s a lot of factors that go into this and it would be hard to pin it down to just one food type.

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