Thanksgiving: “Food Coma”


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I’m sure you’re familiar with the post-Thanksgiving dinner urge to take a long, long nap. After stuffing our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, bread, stuffing, gravy, pie, and whatever else we can fit on our plates and into our stomachs, it is likely that you’ll find your Aunt Sue or Cousin Joey slumped on the couch (that is, if you’re not asleep first).

Is the infamous Thanksgiving Food Coma caused by overindulgence, or the tryptophan-in-turkey myth I’ve always heard about?

Or are neither of those things causes? What if it’s an old wive’s tale that people tend to feel tired, causing a placebo-effect (where people think and convince themselves that they’re tired?) What if it’s actually some third confounding variable, like cooking and cleaning all day to please your family, or feeling stressed while answering the interrogative questions your in-laws pose that makes you tired?

According to Rhianon Davies of Health Library (copyright of EBSCO 2016), there are a variety of foods that contain tryptophan (and tryptophan does actually induce sleepiness). Tryptophan transforms into serotonin once it enters the body, and serotonin can make you tired.  However, it is unlikely that consuming some turkey at Thanksgiving along with tons and tons of other foods (sides and appetizers and desserts, or whatever else you eat) would contain enough concentrated tryptophan to actually make someone tired. Simon Young, a research scientist from McGill University in Montreal, conducted studies and concluded that having a couple of servings of turkey on Thanksgiving will not cause you to fall asleep at the table.

A Huffington Post Article suggests that confounding variables like jet lag or tiredness from traveling and stress might actually also increase one’s Thanksgiving Day exhaustion. The article also describes how fattening, sugary foods (foods we all tend to eat on Thanksgiving) result in a  nerve response that calms our bodies down so they can digest. The article also alludes to research that shows that human glucose levels change and increase significantly after such overindulgence, and orexin, a protein, is created that makes us drowsy. Insulin also increases after such a meal, and serotonin (also mentioned in the Health Library Article above) increases, making us, again, tired.


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So, in conclusion, the tryptophan in turkey alone is not enough to make us tired after our ginormous Thanksgiving dinners. But, it is not necessarily a myth that we feel tired. Overindulgence can lead to a lot of chemical and hormonal changes in the body that induce drowsiness, and confounding variables actually are also partially to blame, There is no determined single cause of our Thanksgiving drowsiness, but I’m sure we all can agree that it is really there, and there are many reasons why.

9 thoughts on “Thanksgiving: “Food Coma”

  1. Zachary Morris

    I really liked this post. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year and everyone in my family is certainly familiar with the food coma. My grandma basically just keeps on serving and serving and serving food until everyone drops. I had always wondered what it was that caused me to nap EVERY Thanksgiving for years, when I lacked to nap about 95% of the calendar days. I think your article is informative and well done. It taught me the difference between what we call a “food coma” and what actually transpires in your body. It makes sense that overeating can cause the body to go to sleep and I believe that I’ve known understood that on a simpler level for a long time now. All in all, good read. Here’s a link to an article discussing the food coma on thanksgiving debate:

  2. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    Great blog post Molly enjoyed every bit of it. Considering that the topic of conversation at the dinner table during Thanksgiving was about the Turkey Coma this article answered many of the questions I had. This past week I ate until I felt uncomfortable and proceeded to fall asleep on my aunts couch (yup I was that guy) and I am here to tell you the food coma is no joke. I agree with your blog on how it isn’t the turkey making you tired and how it is the exhaustion from the traveling and preparation for the big dinner. Here is a article that gets upfront with the food comma, turkey, and the tryptophan; take a look at it I am sure you would find it knowledgeable considering the similarities it has with your blog.

  3. Mairead Donnard

    This was such a intriguing topic to blog about! I never think too in-depth as to why I always take a nap after feasting on Thanksgiving. With this being said, it is logical that the reason this is so is because of the serotonin, a depressant, that makes its way in your body via the delicious, carbohydrate food. While your blog post explains why we feel so lethargic after eating on Thanksgiving, it made me wonder how this same type of exhaustion relates to obese people. Here is an article that you might find interesting:
    The article talks about how overweight individuals must exert more energy than the average, healthy person to complete simple tasks.

  4. Amanda Voirrey Rust


    I have heard people say before that “turkey makes you sleepy”, and indeed after my Thanksgiving dinner the host disappeared supposedly because he was too tired to stay awake. Even during my hour ride home, I struggled to stay awake. I appreciate your comment about the possibility of the placebo affect coming into play here. I think that when people believe something will affect their bodies (I.E. pain killers relieving pain), they make themselves feel a certain way. I think another possibility of this “food coma” could be due to not only the amount of food being consumed, but how fast we consume it. On Thanksgiving especially, our bodies do not have enough time to even know that it is full. Overall, your explanations for this tiredness affect make a lot of sense, and I think there are even more possibilities!

  5. Thomas Tatem Moore

    This article has really great timing with Thanksgiving being just this past week. I myself have always believed in the post thanksgiving dinner food coma. This thanksgiving I crashed on the couch for about an hour right after my families thanksgiving dinner despite fifteen crazy younger cousins running all around the house and screaming frequently. Here is an article that gives tips on how to survive the thanksgiving food coma.

  6. Kaitlyn A Kaminski


    You chose an interesting topic considering Thanksgiving was a few days ago. I have always heard that turkey makes you sleepy, but I did not know the facts. Your blog post made me see the other side of what is included in Thanksgiving meals. I always have Thanksgiving at my house and my dad will always fall asleep shortly after he eats turkey; my mom would always yell at him since other people are over and he’d blame the turkey. I found an interesting article on Tryptophan- specifically on how it can make you sleepy and cause lucid dreams. The link between Tryptophan and turkey is pretty cool to look and and see the correlation. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post and thought you did well explaining everything and using terms from class.

  7. Anna Strahle

    I can completely relate to this post, and every year I experience the Thanksgiving Food Coma. I tend to lay on the couch for hours after we eat, which definitely is not healthy. It turns out I’m right! According to New Health Advisor, your body digests food best in an upright position. Not only can it cause some discomfort due to indigestion, but the habit of lying down after consuming a large meal can have some harmful long-term effects. One consequence is gastro-esophageal reflux disease. After you eat your esophagus is supposed to close in order to keep your food in your stomach where it is supposed to be. But with this disease your esophagus will not close properly causing food and stomach acid to come back up (yuck!). Maybe I will take my family up on that after dinner walk that I usually turn down! For more information you can visit:

  8. Daniele Patrice Loney

    I really enjoyed this post because obviously it is very relatable to everyone at this time of the year. I feel like overindulgence is a reoccurring feeling around the holidays because just like on thanksgiving, there are lots of family get togethers with lots of food and there are also many other variables (as you mentioned) that end up producing a tired, lazy sort of feeling that I always relate to this time of the year.
    Interestingly enough, I limited myself at each meal on Thanksgiving because I had three different dinners to go to. I didn’t want to stuff myself at all of them and feel like an unproductive lard all day. I noticed that I actually didn’t feel tired or exhausted in the slightest all day! I woke up early Thanksgiving morning to run with my dad and did the dishes after every meal, so it would be fair for me to have felt tired, but I didn’t. I am honestly tempted to believe that it’s because I didn’t consume that much turkey, let alone all at once!
    Of course, my experience is just an anecdote so it really doesn’t have that much credibility!
    Anyways, great blog topic and great job explaining it. I definitely picked up on a few things I hadn’t considered before.

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