Chinese cuisine is beloved worldwide for its rich flavors, diverse ingredients, and unique culinary traditions.
However, many people have experienced the phenomenon of feeling unusually sleepy after indulging in a delicious Chinese meal. Is there any truth to the notion that Chinese food can induce drowsiness, or is it merely a culinary myth?
In this article, we’ll explore the factors contributing to sleepiness after eating Chinese food, examining the science behind it and the cultural aspects that play a role in this perception.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why that post-Chinese meal nap seems almost inevitable, read on to uncover the truth behind this intriguing culinary curiosity.
Does Chinese Food Make You Sleepy?
Chinese food is delicious, but it also has a reputation for making people sleepy after eating it. Is this just a myth, or does Chinese food cause drowsiness? Several factors may explain why Chinese food sometimes leads to sleepiness.
What Ingredients in Chinese Food Could Cause Sleepiness?
Certain ingredients commonly used in Chinese cooking may play a role in post-meal sleepiness.
Here are some of the culinary suspects:
High Carb Content
Many classic Chinese dishes like chow mein, fried rice, lo mein, and sweet and sour contain refined carbs like white rice or noodles. These high glycemic index foods cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, which can trigger drowsiness.
Combining carbs and protein in a savory Chinese meal may also encourage serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleep.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is a typical flavor enhancer used in Chinese cooking. Some people claim sensitivity to MSG, reporting symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and sleepiness after consuming it.
However, no definitive scientific evidence confirms that MSG causes these effects in the general population. Some experience drowsiness may be psychological due to the negative associations with MSG.
High Sodium Content
Like many restaurant meals, Chinese food tends to be high in sodium. The average American consumes over 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, mostly from processed foods. Consuming foods high in salt may cause sleepiness by lowering blood pressure, which reduces blood flow to the brain.
Chinese meals are often accompanied by wine or beer, making people sleepy. Alcohol is a depressant that causes relaxation and drowsiness as the body metabolizes it. Just one or two drinks can induce sleepiness in some people.
Does Eating a Big Meal Make You Tired?
It’s not just Chinese cuisine. Eating any large meal can make you drowsy afterward. When your stomach is complete, your body directs blood flow to the digestive system to help break down and absorb all the nutrients.
This diverts blood from your brain, resulting in sleepiness. After eating, the biochemical shift to the digestive process also changes your energy levels.
Big meals high in carbs, fat, and protein, in particular, require significant digestion, which can sap energy and make you feel like taking a nap.
Hearty portions of food stretch the stomach and trigger the release of hormones like gastrin, secretin, and cholecystokinin, which promote relaxation and sleepiness.
Why Chinese Food Makes You Sleepy?
One of the main reasons Chinese food can make you sleepy is that many popular dishes are high in carbohydrates, from rice, noodles, or doughy dumplings. Carbs break down into sugar in your body, leading to a spike in blood sugar. After this spike, your blood sugar drops rapidly, leaving you tired.
Another factor is that Chinese dishes are often heavy in fats, oils, and salty seasonings like soy sauce. Eating fatty foods increases blood flow to your digestive system to help break down and absorb the fats. This diverts blood from your brain, potentially making you feel sluggish and sleepy.
Finally, the portions served at many Chinese restaurants tend to be significant. Overeating can reduce your energy levels as your body digests the extra food. This combination of heavy carbs, fats, and large portions is a recipe for sleepiness!
Does Chinese food affect sleep?
While feeling drowsy after eating Chinese food is familiar, research shows it may not impair sleep quality or duration. One study found children who ate rice before bed slept just as well as those who ate other starchy foods.
However, since drowsiness is unpleasant, it’s sensible to be mindful of portion size and ingredients to avoid that sleepy feeling. Dishes like soups with lean proteins and veggies are lighter options. As always, moderation is key!
The sleepy feeling associated with Chinese food is temporary and unlikely to disrupt your night’s sleep. However, being aware of ingredients and listening to your body’s signals can help prevent overeating and sluggishness. With balance, you can enjoy this beloved cuisine and still feel energized.
Does the Timing of When You Eat Play a Role?
Your circadian rhythm, aka your internal body clock, regulates cycles of sleepiness and alertness throughout the day. In the mid-afternoon, around 2-4 p.m., most people experience a dip in their circadian rhythm, which makes them prone to fatigue and drowsiness.
If you eat a big lunch before this mid-afternoon lull, it can amplify sleepiness. Blood pools in your abdomen to work on digestion when you need it in your brain to maintain alertness. Late dinners close to bedtime can also disrupt sleep by causing indigestion.
Does Eating Spicy Food Make You Sleepy?
Spicy Szechuan and Hunan cuisine are hallmarks of Chinese cooking. Interestingly, some research suggests that eating spicy foods may increase sleepiness.
Capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers, may cause drowsiness by promoting serotonin release and altering circadian rhythms.
Spicy foods also raise body temperature and metabolic rate, heightening fatigue after the heat dissipates. They may also irritate the stomach lining, which takes energy to repair.
Why Do Some People Get a “Food Coma” After Eating?
That sluggish feeling of sleepiness after a large meal is sometimes referred to as a food coma. The hypnotic effect is exaggerated on holidays like Thanksgiving, when people tend to overeat.
Stuffing yourself causes blood to rush to the stomach, lowering oxygen levels in the brain. Eating more than your body needs for fuel also triggers the release of serotonin, melatonin, and other chemicals that induce sleep.
People who overeat are more vulnerable to food comas, especially if lying down too soon after meals.
Tips to Avoid Post-Meal Sleepiness
If you want to enjoy your favorite Chinese dishes without getting that sloshy food coma feeling afterward, here are some tips:
- Avoid carb-heavy words and load up more on lean proteins and veggies
- Request MSG to be left out of your dishes
- Ask for low-sodium options when available
- Skip the rice and fill up on broth-based soups instead
- Limit alcohol, especially during daylight hours
- Eat smaller portions and skip the supersized servings
- Go for a walk after eating to aid digestion
- Drink water before and during the meal to support digestion
- Take a quick 5-15 minute nap after eating if needed
The Bottom Line
Does Chinese food make you sleepy? Sometimes, but it’s not necessarily universal. The combination of large portions, starchy carbs, sodium, sauces, MSG, and alcohol found in many Chinese dishes can lead to sleepiness in some individuals.
Paying attention to what and how much you eat can help ward off unwanted drowsiness and let you thoroughly enjoy those tasty Chinese flavors.
Chinese food is delicious. Does it make you sleepy?
A study finds that Chinese food has a higher level of tryptophan – an amino acid that helps produce serotonin. The neurotransmitter is primarily responsible for mood regulation and sleepiness in humans – than other foods. This may be why people who eat much Western-style fast food are more likely to feel tired after eating their meal than those who primarily consume traditional Asian cuisines such as noodles or rice dishes.
Does fried rice make you sleepy?
Fried rice is one of the best Chinese dishes to order at a restaurant because it’s high in protein and complex carbohydrates. The downside, however, could be that it may make you feel sleepy for hours afterward – especially if someone has trouble sleeping due to being hungry after bedtime. Some great options for those looking for low-calorie foods with lots of protein but also want something sweet before bed would include watermelon slices paired with mint leaves or lime wedges and bananas topped with hazelnut spread (or another flavor). Grapefruits can also be an option too, depending on what type they serve!
How Do Different Types Of Chinese Food Affect Your Sleepiness?
Different types of Chinese food contain different amounts of carbohydrates, sodium, and fat. Rice and noodle-based dishes are the best bets for avoiding feeling sleepy after eating Chinese food. In rice-based dishes, up to 30% of calories can come from carbohydrates, with the average meal containing less than 100 calories per serving. In noodle-based dishes, up to 70% of calories can come from carbohydrates, which tend to be higher in sodium.
What Is The Optimum Amount Of Chinese Food To Eat To Feel Sleepy?
The amount of Chinese food you eat will directly affect how sleepy you feel. The more food you eat, the fuller you’ll feel before bedtime. The best way to prevent feeling sleepy after eating Chinese food is to avoid overeating at dinner. Eating a moderate portion of your favourite dish will allow you to stay full and satisfied until bedtime.
What Happens If I Don’t Sleep After Eating Chinese Food?
If you don’t sleep immediately after eating, your body can burn calories for about three hours. However, once these calories are burned, your body will store the extra fat until it can be converted into energy again.
What Should I Do If I Feel Sleepy After Chinese Food?
If you feel sleepy after eating Chinese food, try changing when you eat dinner. Avoid eating at night, especially after a high-energy activity. If you still feel sleepy in the morning after eating Chinese food, try sleeping earlier and getting adequate sleep. If you wake up feeling drowsy during the day, pull over in a safe place and take a short nap for 10 to 15 minutes. Avoid taking long naps since they can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.