You have just finished your delicious, traditional Thanksgiving meal. Turkey, yams, potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were all passed around the table for your family to enjoy. Over dinner, you were a lively bunch with much laughter and conversation being had. However, now as things wind down, you mosey on over to the television to watch some football, you notice that you feel sluggish and Grandpa has fallen asleep in his recliner — just like last year. Grandma may joke about his “turkey hangover.” Is it the turkey that makes you sleepy and lethargic after a Thanksgiving meal? Newer evidence says it’s not, or at least, not the only reason.
It has become common knowledge that turkey has an amino acid called L-tryptophan. It is not something we produce naturally and is introduced to our systems only from the foods we consume. Our bodies take tryptophan and turn it into niacin, which is a type of B vitamin that produces serotonin. And high serotonin levels have been proven to improve sleep. How? Serotonin produces the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Tryptophan is found in foods like cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, and yogurt. There are higher tryptophan levels in chicken than turkey, but you never hear people complain that their chicken nuggets made them sleepy. Why?
Elizabeth Somer MA, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, believes that the large amounts of carbohydrates we consume on Thanksgiving combined with the turkey causes the sleepiness after dinner. She says that when you eat tryptophan-rich foods, you absorb the amino acids into your bloodstream. They then make their way to your brain. Tryptophan as solely a protein must compete more with other amino acids and only a small amount of it will make its way to your brain. But when carbs are added, more tryptophan can reach your brain increasing the serotonin levels that make you feel tired.
Another reason you feel so sleepy could just simply be you ate more food than you usually do. Think about it, the typical Thanksgiving meal averages 3,000 calories! Much of that fare consists of the above-mentioned carbs, as well as fat. Our bodies use a great deal of energy to digest food, especially fat. The more we eat, the harder our body must work. This could easily result in that sleepy feeling. We should also consider alcohol consumption as a factor in our Thanksgiving lethargy. Alcohol is a known sedative, and can easily contribute to your sleepiness, especially if you don’t often imbibe.
As you can see, it is a combination of factors that lead to sleepiness after your Thanksgiving meal, and not solely the fault of the bird.
Feeling sleepy on Thanksgiving is normal, but if you feel you are sleepy and/or lethargic regularly, you may have a sleep disorder. We can help. Call Family Sleep Diagnostics today (972) 714-0011 or schedule an appointment online.