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Every year on Thanksgiving, I end up half asleep on the couch after gorging myself with loads of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc. When I look around my living room, I see that the majority of my family is following suit, i.e. lazily lounging around the living room with half-closed eyes. Since I can remember, my family members told me that tryptophan and carbs is the culprit for my overwhelming sleepiness. In this blog, I will explore if tryptophan really is the reason I feel tired after Thanksgiving dinner.
First, I wanted to learn why tryptophan is linked to tiredness anyway. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the amino acid, tryptophan, leads to an increase of serotonin, which induces sleep. In addition to turkey containing tryptophan, meals lead to an increase of tryptophan are considered to be high in carbohydrates, and these meals have a higher glycemic index. In the first study I found, researches investigated how different levels of glycemic index affected sleep onset in 12 healthy, young men (ages 18-35). The null hypothesis is that glycemic index, and therefore tryptophan levels, do not affect sleep onset. The alternative hypothesis is that high or low glycemic levels will affect the time of sleep onset. To test the hypothesis, the men randomly were given a meal with Manatma rice which had a low glycemic index or Jasmine rice that had an high glycemic index about four hours before bedtime. After measuring sleep onset in accordance with glycemic index over three weeks, the study concluded that those who ate meals with a high glycemic index had an early onset of sleep of 9-6.2 minutes as oppose to sleep onset of 17.5-6.2 minutes. Therefore, this study accepted the alternative hypothesis because the men who ate the rice with a higher glycemic index fell asleep faster than men who ate rice with a lower glycemic index.
First off, this study had a small, narrow sample size. This study would be more credible if the sample size was larger. Also, the onset of sleep happened at least four hours before the men tried to sleep. In my family’s and my case, we feel tired about thirty meals after our meal. Furthermore, the participants ate rice and not turkey, heaps of potatoes, pie, cheese plates, etc. Since many foods are carbohydrate-heavy, including certain types of rice, I would expect to experience this overwhelmingly tired feeling when I eat these types of meals. I eat rice, potatoes, beef, and other meals that have a high glycemic index all the time, and I do not experience the same overwhelming tiredness I feel on Thanksgiving. Maybe there could be something else about Thanksgiving dinner that contributes to my sleepiness.
There is a chance that the tired feeling could be a placebo effect. Since everyone says I should feel tired, so my brain and body believes it. Then, it is easy to curl up on my couch and feel like resting. On the other hand, the stress and intense preparation for the holidays including cooking, cleaning, traveling, and mediating dinner table political debates could just exhaust everyone. Even if turkey or the carb-heavy meal complete with potatoes and stuffing does make me tired, I enjoy the annual fest so much, that I would not change my habits otherwise.