After you have eaten a big meal, do you feel like going for a nap? Even in the middle of the day? Well you are not alone, in fact, around the world many countries will shut down for a few hours after lunch while everyone goes off to have a sleep. This may seem like a simple cultural practice rather than a biological necessity but in actuality it has been shown that there is a very strong biological connection between food and sleepiness.
You may not be falling asleep in your plate of food (though this is not unheard of) but many of us do feel drowsy after a meal. This is such a strong and widespread sensation that in many countries the after lunch nap, or siesta, is a common occurrence. While for many in Australia this may seem like a cultural hang up of the pre-modern era, recent research has found that there is in fact a strong link between food and sleepiness. Thanks to the scientist’s best friend, the fruit fly, we may be one step closer in finding out more about this connection.
We have always known that there is some connection between food and sleepiness. As well as the obvious connection between being full and being drowsy there is also the converse, how much harder it is to fall asleep when you are hungry. Sometimes all you need is some food in your stomach and you can drop off in no time. Now though, the scientists have begun to peel back what was up until now and vague connection, they have now begun to understand the biomechanical processes that underlie this connection.
To learn more about the connection between food intact and sleepiness the scientists examined the sNPF of fruit flies. This is a neuropeptide that has long been known to help control both food intake and the metabolism. This research has now shown that it also plays a vital role in the regulation and control of sleep as well. Neurons use these neuropeptides to send communications regarding many of the different brain functions such as for learning, memory, metabolism and social behaviours.
The study activated the sNPF in the flies, which made the flies fall asleep almost instantly. They would wake long enough to eat before going straight back to sleep. The flies were so drowsy that they slept directly on their food for a number of days without continuously eating it. To find out more they then returned the flies sNPF levels back to normal and, unsurprisingly, the flies activity returned to its normal rate. This established the connection between sNPF and sleep.
What this research tells us is that our food intake has an important role in our sleep health. We already knew this, of course, but as we better understand the mechanics that underlie these connections we can better start to make positive changes to eating habits that will ensure we sleep better as well.
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