Why did my lunch put me to sleep?
March 10, 2009 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Why does this food seem to always make me sleepy?

I try so hard to bring my lunch, but it's not always possible, and even if I do, sometimes I have to go out to lunch with picky, finicky, coworkers. Today we went to one of those 'EVERYTHING' places, and while eyeing the sushi (which did not look good), I noticed a guy dishing out udon soups. I love udon (although I prefer soba), but stopped eating it for lunch because 1) i didn't know there was any near this office and 2) it always made me ridiculously sleepy after lunch.

But today, at this place, I decided it was the best lunch option available to me, and got chicken udon with the usual assortment of veggies and seaweed and came back to the office to eat it during my lunch meeting...

...and once again, was almost put to sleep.

What is it in a standard udon soup that's doing this? I go to a ramen joint (not top ramen, people, a japanese noodle shop type place) all the time and this does not happen. Obviously I'm not going to repeat this experience in the middle of the day but I'd love to know why chicken, miso, noodles, scallions, tofu, veggies and seaweed are doing this to me.
posted by micawber to Food & Drink (19 answers total)
posted by sweetkid at 1:37 PM on March 10, 2009

Does this happen in every restuarant? Maybe there's a spice or other ingredient that your digestive tract has a bit of trouble with, and that could be taking a lot of energy, or simply make your stomach feel subtly different, and as many of our emotions/moods are based on physiological feedback, it could be dragging you down.

posted by mccarty.tim at 1:38 PM on March 10, 2009

MSG would be my guess also. It completely wipes me out as well.
posted by notquitemaryann at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2009

Udon? Big, thick, carbo heavy wheat noodles? I don't know about you, but heavy carbs knock me right out. I don't know the science specifically, but i imagine it has something to do with glucose response (I'm sure I'm completely wrong). Try eating less/no noodles and see what happens.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:44 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Could it be the carbs?
Apparently the carbohydrates in udon noodles have a medium rating on the glycemic index.
posted by xiaolongbao at 1:44 PM on March 10, 2009

A full stomach will make you sleepy.
posted by nikkorizz at 1:58 PM on March 10, 2009

I recently discovered that I think I have developed a mild allergy to wheat. This explains why I feel a little weird and sleepy after drinking a wheat beer or eating a sandwich with wheat bread. Some say this could also be Coeliac Disease (I doubt it, though). I haven't seen a doctor about this yet but I am starting to pay attention to how much wheat I eat each day to see if that changes how I feel in the afternoons and evenings.
posted by camworld at 2:05 PM on March 10, 2009

I find that glass or cellophane noodles (I'm not sure if they're used in Udon) actually make me drunk. I feel drunk (goofy, warm), act drunk (goofy, loving, tripping/stumbling), and am hungover the next day. It is BIZARRE. It has happened consistently every time I've eaten that particular type of noodle, and never with any other type of pasta, rice, or any wheat product.

Perhaps this is a similar reaction?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:11 PM on March 10, 2009

MSG, in my experience, only has a negative effect on people who know they've eaten it and are convinced it's just some evil additive. I doubt it's MSG. Particularly if you commonly eat ramen. Of course psychosemantic discomfort or pain is every bit as horrific as 'real' pain.... perhaps even worse.
posted by dawson at 2:16 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: it's not a full stomach. I could go eat chinese or indian and not be so sleepy i don't know how i'm going to make it through the rest of the day.

i would have guessed MSG, but this has happened in three places. not every place uses massive MSG - or so i thought.

If i was allergic to wheat, I would have reactions from pizza, pasta, and other items i eat as often as the udon (which is - not that often).

if it was the carbs, then why would it do that with soba, which is healthy buckwheat noodles?

i guess it's gotta be MSG. I was just so sure it wouldn't be that.
posted by micawber at 2:17 PM on March 10, 2009

Buckwheat has a low glycemic response. That would explain it.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:21 PM on March 10, 2009

Carb bomb.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:28 PM on March 10, 2009

Your body's energy is being devoted to digestion.
posted by rhizome at 2:39 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not the soup, it's not the carbs, it's not MSG or any pseudo-scientific food allergy whoohah.

I'll place a gentleman's wager that you're simply not getting enough sleep (or if you think you are, you are not sleeping well), and the presence of udon soup is mere selective perception.

"Ohmigawsh, I always get sleepy after lunch."
"Are you sleeping eight hours a night, every night?"
"Oh, heck no. I usually average about six hours. And my cat keeps waking me up. Why do you ask? I'm really thinking it's something I eat at lunch..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:26 PM on March 10, 2009

I'm voting for carbs + "it's just one of those things". I grew up eating white rice every night for dinner (Japanese mom) and had no problems. When I started cooking for myself, I ate pasta, potatoes, and bread instead of rice. Eventually, I missed rice and starting eating it again. It turns out, white rice now puts me into a coma. I have no problems with any other starchy carbs, but white rice is my own personal sleeping pill. I think your reaction to udon is like my rice reaction. Sometimes it really is "just one of those things." The combination of udon and your own personal metabolism don't mix.
posted by dogmom at 6:59 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

MSG, in my experience, only has a negative effect on people who know they've eaten it and are convinced it's just some evil additive.

I'm allergic to MSG, and I can assure you that it's as real as any other food allergy. The symptoms are unmistakable: my sinuses go crazy, the back of my throat hurts in a weird, itchy way, and I get incredibly lethargic. I've described it as "Like getting a cold, without the cold."

My reactions have been getting worse -- the last time I accidently ate MSG, about six years ago, it took me over a week to feel normal again -- so these days I'm extra-vigilant. MSG can be in all kinds of things that you wouldn't expect. When we went out for Vietnamese for a friend's birthday, the waitress checked with the kitchen and told me there was one item on the four-page menu that didn't have MSG. It's fortunate that I like rice-paper and vegetables, I guess.

I can't say if MSG is the cause of the OPs sleepiness, but it's a possibility. The next time you're at the take-away joint, why not ask?
posted by Georgina at 7:14 PM on March 10, 2009

I had a buddy whose reaction to MSG was exactly as you describe.

You can test this easily: buy a shaker of MSG, sprinkle a bit on some noodles or something in the evening when you won't care about being sleepy, and see what happens.
posted by Aquaman at 8:26 PM on March 10, 2009

Seconding Aquaman. Ridiculously cheap, easy, and fun food experiment. MSG ho!
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:37 PM on March 10, 2009

MSG is glutamate and salt, and glutamate is not some exotic artificial food additive that man invented. It was originally discovered a century ago in the dried kombu seaweed used by the Japanese to make vegetable stock. It occurs naturally in many foods like ripe cheese, cured meats, walnuts, ripe tomatoes, dried mushrooms, fermented sauce like soy/fish sauce, human breast milk (and on and on.) For example 100g of parmesan cheese naturally contains 1200mg of it. It also goes by many stealth names on the labels of processed foods, such as "yeast extract", "natural flavors", "calcium caseinate", glutamic acid, E621, etc. For example, Marmite contains 1750mg per 100g but you won't see MSG on the label anywhere.

In summary, you are almost certainly consuming copious amounts of it from both natural and processed sources without ever knowing it, so I find it hard to believe that the sleepiness is a reaction to glutamate per se. You might indeed be reacting to a particularly high concentration of it in that place's udon, perhaps, but that doesn't necessarily mean that by avoiding it you are somehow also avoiding MSG. (For more info...)
posted by Rhomboid at 6:17 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

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