After scarfing down an annual Thanksgiving meal, it isn’t uncommon to find your uncle snoozing on the couch, or your brother nodding off to the sound of the TV. For years, people have speculated that L-tryptophan is the culprit behind our Thanksgiving drowsiness, but is this true? Does tryptophan really make you sleepy? And if not, what does?
Turkey contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, and when this travels through the blood to the brain, our bodies change it into a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin calms us and makes us drowsy. Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, and an author of nutrition books, tells WebMD, “When levels of serotonin are high, you’re in a better mood, sleep better, and have a higher pain tolerance.” Serotonin in turn makes melatonin, which controls sleep.
What many people don’t know is that turkey has no more tryptophan that many foods we eat on a weekly, or even daily basis, like cheese, eggs, pineapple, nuts, and salmon. Turkey, in fact, has less tryptophan than chicken. Furthermore, according to Kidshealth.org, scientists believe that tryptophan can only make us sleepy if it’s eaten by itself, without any amino acids.
So what is really behind our post-Thanksgiving drowsiness? Live Science writes that consuming large portions of carbs and alcohol is what experts say most likely causes us to get sleepy. Turkey requires “assistance” from other foods that are high in carbohydrates to actually affect our serotonin levels, so eating a lot of carbs makes it more likely for us to crave a nap. Another explanation to the mystery of the sleep-inducing meal is that when it’s Thanksgiving, many of us tend to overeat, and our bodies use up more energy to digest our meals, making us feel tired.
How can you battle the sleepiness feeling on Turkey Day? Try not to starve yourself before the big day! A lot of people like to fast leading up to the big meal, but the fact of the matter is that the bigger the meal you eat, the more sleepy you’ll become! Another solution is to drink more water– not only will this allow you to better gauge when you’re full, but if you alternate your alcoholic beverages with water, you’ll be able to stay alert for a longer period of time. Lastly, physical activity like a backyard football game or a walk will help your body digest the food you’ve eaten, or are about to eat.