Turkey is not the reason you’re sleepy — really

Turkey is not the reason you’re sleepy — really

Turkey is not the reason you’re sleepy — really


Do you believe in holiday food coma?

Many people do. A staple on the dinner table this time of year, turkey contains tryptophan, which is thought to be responsible for the uncontrollable yawning and sudden sleepiness often seen after large family feasts.

“Tryptophan is an essential amino acid needed to make serotonin, which has many functions in our body, including a hormone that regulates mood and sleep,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck. School of Medicine.

“A byproduct of the process from tryptophan to serotonin is melatonin, another hormone that regulates the sleep cycle,” he said. “Our bodies don’t produce tryptophan naturally, so we have to get it from the foods we eat.”

However, many foods besides turkey contain tryptophan, including cheese, chicken, egg whites, fish, milk, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. According to the National Library of Medicine.

Serotonin is one of the “feel good” hormones that calms and relaxes the body. However, we don’t consume nearly as much turkey during the holiday smorgasbord, even if we go back for seconds, to create the amount of serotonin that makes us sleepy, says Stephen Malin, associate professor of kinesiology and health. Rutgers University of New Jersey.

To get the amount of tryptophan needed to induce a food coma, he said, we’d need to eat about 8 pounds of turkey — about half the size of a typical public serving bird. US Department of Agriculture recommends planning a pound of turkey per person when preparing a holiday meal.

“Tryptophan from turkey is unlikely to get into the brain and release serotonin, which makes us sleepy,” Malin said.

So you can’t just blame the box on your desk for sudden sleepiness, says sleep specialist Kristen Knutson, M.D., associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Turkey won’t keep us awake,” Knutson said. “If we feel sleepy after a big meal, it could be a chance that we didn’t get enough sleep in the days leading up to the big event and rest after dinner.”

Overeating in general is the main culprit behind post-meal fatigue, Dasgupta said.

“Remember all the delicious side dishes for the turkey centerpiece, like sweet potato pies, casseroles and savory desserts,” she said. “These tasty foods are high in carbohydrates, which can contribute to post-meal sleepiness.”

Another reason for feeling sleepy after a meal is a change in blood flow from the head to the digestive system.

“Eating a big celebratory dinner causes more blood flow to the stomach to help with digestion, which causes less blood flow to the brain, which makes you tired and ready for bed,” Dasgupta said.

Don’t forget the effect of festive drinks. Many dishes served at this time of year are washed down with wine, cocktails and champagne. And then there’s the beer (or two or three) that often accompanies afternoon ball games.

“Let’s be honest, it’s probably a holiday and family stress or travel fatigue, so you probably drank more than usual,” Dasgupta said. “Alcohol slows down your brain and relaxes your muscles, so you may fall asleep after a few drinks.”

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