Florida Atlantic researchers find evidence behind “food coma” phenomena

Bigger meals cause the body to rest longer according to their study on fruit flies.


Photo of Activity Recording CAFE courtesy of “Postprandial sleep mechanics in Drosophilia” study.

Ryan Lynch, Editor in Chief


esearchers at Florida Atlantic have found evidence that the so-called “food coma” is a real condition, helping them to better understand why people often fall asleep after large meals, especially around the holidays.   

Partnering with The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida and Bowling Green University in Ohio, those involved in the study used fruit flies to see if their activity increased or decreased after a meal.

The experiment utilized a motion-sensing camera to measure the movement of the flies before and after eating, finding that the amount of food that each fly ate had a direct effect on how much they slept. Flies that ate more also slept more before moving again, while those that ate less slept for a shorter period of time.

William Ja, an associate professor at the institute, said via email,  “… despite all of the anecdotal evidence, quantitative studies of postmeal sleep have been limited in mammals.  And definitely never done before in Drosophila (fruit flies).”

According to Ja, there have been several studies conducted with human subjects, but the results have varied. He believes that this may be caused by people sleeping abnormally when they’re being observed.

The group found that the fruit flies’ sleep following large meals is different from any other form of sleep than they had previously studied. This discovery could allow researchers to develop new ways to lessen symptoms of fatigue.

“If that’s true in humans too, that means there are potentially different targets [areas in the brain] for us to go after in the future with dietary or drug interventions to help with sleepiness or wakefulness,” Ja said.

The associate professor theorized that the food coma phenomenon may serve an “important, broad biological function,” saying, “Maybe it’s just good for digestion.  Or maybe running around with a stomach full of food is horribly damaging for your gut. Hopefully this is something we figure out in the next paper.”

Ryan Lynch is the editor in chief of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @RyanLynchwriter.