The Thanksgiving holiday is a time when most of us watch football, relax and eat massive amounts of pumpkin pie, stuffing and turkey. After a big meal the family retreats to the couch where everyone starts to doze off in front of the Thanksgiving Day football game. Why are we so tired? Because we ate too much turkey, of course. Wrong. Turkey does not, in fact, make people tired, even though it contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which can bring a feeling of calmness and can enhance sleep.
Tryptophan and Turkey
Turkey contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid with a documented sleep inducing effect. L-tryptophan is used in the body to produce the B-vitamin, niacin. Tryptophan also can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that exert a calming effect and regulates sleep. However, L-tryptophan needs to be taken on an empty stomach and without any other amino acids or protein in order to make you drowsy. There’s lots of protein in a serving of turkey and it’s probably not the only food on the table. So why are you so tired after eating that Thanksgiving Feast? The feeling of drowsiness after eating a turkey dinner can be attributed to other factors including:
- Feast Full of Fats Fats slow down the digestive system, giving Thanksgiving dinner plenty of time to take effect. Fats also take a lot of energy to digest, so the body will redirect blood to your digestive system to tackle the job. Since you have less blood flow elsewhere, you will feel less energetic after eating a meal rich in fats.
- Alcohol Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. If alcoholic beverages are part of the holiday celebration, then they will add to the nap-factor.
- Overeating It takes a great deal of energy to digest a large meal. When your stomach is full, blood is directed away from other organ systems, including your nervous system. The result? You will feel the need to nap after any big meal, especially if it is high in fats and carbohydrates.
- Relaxation Although many people find the holidays stressful, the most relaxing part of the festivities is likely to be the meal. Thanksgiving dinner provides an opportunity to sit back and relax and that feeling that can carry over after the meal.
So the turkey isn’t the real reason why you are sleepy after a big Thanksgiving dinner. It’s more likely a combination of the type of food, amount of food, and celebratory atmosphere.