An estimated 24 million drivers are expected to hit the road after eating their Christmas dinner on December 25th. Nothing unusual about that. What worries me is they could experience side effects from over eating that affect their driving in a similar way to drinking.
I’m a qualified nutritionist and have spent years studying the effect of food on the human body. One thing it’s taught me is that if you eat a large amount of the sort of food that makes up the average Christmas dinner, you’ll have sluggish reactions and maybe even fall asleep at the wheel.
Green Flag research found that more than a third of drivers (37 per cent) claim they can’t control dozing off after eating a festive feast. That doesn’t surprise me. But nod off at the wheel for just three seconds on a motorway and you’ll cover the length of about four football pitches. The dangers are obvious. Read on to find out how you can beat the Christmas food coma.
Why Xmas dinner makes us dozy
The Christmas dinner could almost have been purpose-built to make us sleepy. That desperate tiredness we feel after the plates have been cleared away isn’t surprising considering the types of carbohydrates we’ll consume on Christmas day. The increased quantity contributes to these symptoms too. Similarly, the sluggishness we experience is from the high salt content in our festive feast which makes our bodies retain water.
The sleep ingredients
The usual Christmas dinner contains a lean meat such as chicken or turkey with starchy carbohydrates in the shape of potatoes and parsnips. Eating a refined carbohydrate-heavy meal like this speeds up the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin, both of which can make us feel sleepy.
It doesn’t have to be that way
You can tweak the way you eat Christmas dinner to minimise the food coma effects of the meal. First, stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Then try to minimise the intake of starches such as potatoes, parsnips and bread sauce. Favouring non-starchy vegetables on your dinner plate is also going to help keep your energy levels up. In other words: feel free to binge on sprouts and other greens! Also think about the run up to Christmas. Make sure you get enough sleep before the big day, and don’t crash diet to prepare for a large meal.
When not to drive
The most dangerous time to drive is three hours after eating. That’s because most of us have a metabolic rate of about three hours, so this is the point where we will feel the most tired. The optimum time to wait after your Christmas dinner before driving is around five hours, when your body has digested the majority of the festive food.
Feel tired when you’re driving?
It’s important to recognise what your body is telling you. If you feel tired while at the wheel, it’s because your body and brain need to rest. Turning up the music or turning down the heating won’t have any meaningful long-term effect. And it’s definitely not the most sensible decision to continue controlling a large metal projectile at high speed if you’re feeling like a nap! Listen to your body and pull over.
Where to pull over
My friends at Green Flag always say stop in a safe place. That’s not the hard shoulder of the motorway. Either find a layby or ideally, a services. There you can do two things that will guarantee you pull back onto the road a safer driver.
What to do when you stop
First of all, have a cup of strong coffee or some other kind of caffeinated drink, preferably one without lots of sugar. Then if you can, put the car’s seat back and have a snooze. You’ll probably only be asleep for 15 to 20 minutes because after that the caffeine will have had the desired stimulating effect and woken you up. You should then be fit to continue your journey.
Slow down, move over
Last month Green Flag joined forces with other breakdown services to highlight the dangers of stopping at the roadside. If you’re driving and you see a car stopped by the side of the road, slow down and move over to give the stopped car and people in it plenty of space. Read more about our campaign here.
Jenny Tschiesche is one of the UK’s leading nutritionists and founder of Lunchboxdoctor.com