During this past week off, I can assume a lot of us participated in the annual Thanksgiving stuff your face fest. While of course it is great to see family and friends during the celebration, a lot of time is focused on the meal. However, it seems that as soon as the meal is done, people tend to feel a sudden grogginess. They feel a need to nap off their meal. So why are we so tired after eating our turkey dinner? Is it something in the turkey or is that just an old wives’ tale?
Many people accredit holiday drowsiness to the L-tryptophan that is in the turkey. “L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid” and amino acids “are the building blocks of proteins.” Tryptophan cannot be produced by the body so we get it from our food. Turkey is not the only food product with tryptophan though. Tryptophan is also in “poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish and eggs.” Tryptophan is used to make a B vitamin, and B vitamins aid in the making of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects your mood. Being as tryptophan helps the body produce serotonin, it is assumed that the more turkey consumed, the more tryptophan in the body, and thus the more serotonin made. Serotonin additionally helps create melatonin, which is a chemical in the brain that affects the sleep cycle. So can mass amounts of tryptophan really be the mechanism in turkey leading to sleep?
Turkey actually “contains no more of the amino acid tryptophan than other kinds of poultry. In fact, turkey has slightly less tryptophan than chicken.” So we should be just as sleepy when we eat a chicken breast as after Thanksgiving dinner, if the tryptophan consumption theory were true. Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, stated that “it’s a myth that eating foods high in tryptophan boosts brain levels of tryptophan and therefore brain levels of serotonin.” Serotonin boosts actually come from small carbohydrate snacks. So the exhaustion from eating our turkey dinner may be from digestion and not what is in the food itself.
Overall, being tired after Thanksgiving dinner is less connected to the turkey being consumed and more so the quantity of food. The more food we eat, the harder the digestive system has to work, and that takes a lot of energy from the body.
What would be interesting to see is a trial where there are two groups eating different meals before going to bed. One group would be given a light carbohydrate snack and the other a heavy meal. Both would fall asleep for different reasons, the carbohydrate snack because it affects serotonin and the heavy meal because of the digestion. To see which group slept more soundly would be interesting. It would also be thought-provoking to see if the meals affected the subjects’ dreams differently, or if they dreamed at all. The experiment would technically be experimental since the food would be given to different groups, but observations would need to occur to draw conclusions over what food will make you rest the most easily. All in all, just food for thought!