Why Do I Always Feel So Sleepy After Thanksgiving Dinner?

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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.

-Taylor Lender




3 thoughts on “Why Do I Always Feel So Sleepy After Thanksgiving Dinner?

  1. Mya Legend Avant

    This is intersting, but I think that while the study you mentioned was on the right path it was not right for what you were looking for. Like you mention in the post, it is concerning that this study did not use an actual thanksgiving meal items to find results. It could be like what you said that it is something else in the food but there could also be other third confounding variables. I have to wonder how much rice did these men eat. I know during my thanksgiving many of us probably eat more and a pound of food by the end of the night. So it could be that they just didn’t eat enough; it not so much what is in the food, but how much of it you have. The other thing is that there might be other factors that contribute to sleepiness think about what occurs on thanksging and perhaps not on other days. Many people go outside and play around with their family on Thanksging so this could cause them to exert energy. Many people watch the game and it might be that the adrenaline from watching the game could exhaust their energy. I don’t know about your family but all my family also has to help prepare the meal and I don’t know of any other time of the year where we spend so much time on one meal and cleaning afterward. Perhaps people are actually tired from all the work it takes to pull a day like that off; I don’t know… Just a theory?

  2. Grace Anne Walker

    I agree with your opinion of the placebo affect. I think that although there is a chemical in the turkey that scientists can prove will make you tired, the near thought of stuffing my face with food is enough to take a nap. I enjoyed your blog because you explored the different possibilities of why we sleep on thanksgiving rather than giving one definitive answer. I would try and dig deeper into more experiments just to back up each of your claims. If you have trouble staying awake on thanksgiving, here are some tips on how to stay awake! http://www.beautyrest.com/Under-The-Covers/Articles/3-sleep-pitfalls-avoid-thanksgiving

  3. Anthony Mitchell

    The tired feeling may be a placebo effect; it may also be that the carbs from eating a large meal causes your insulin levels to drastically rise and then drastically decrease as your body is trying to process all the turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, mashed potatoes, pie, and cake you just ingested. What may be a little bit more interesting is how this affects your sleep cycle in the long term by eating large meals at unusual times (like this article talks about):

    Let’s say you eat a full course meal around 10 pm or eat multiple larger meals on Thanksgiving after sleeping off the meal prior. That can impact your circadian rhythm and essentially discombobulate your sleep schedule.

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