We’ve all felt the sluggish, sleepy feeling after a big Thanksgiving dinner. Our bellies stretched, our heads swimming, many of us find ourselves in desperate need of a post-feast nap. Well, now we’ve found the real reason Thanksgiving makes us sleepy, and it’s more than just the turkey. We’ve all heard of tryptophan, the ingredient found in turkey that makes us sleepy, but that’s not the full picture. Much of the other food on Thanksgiving contributes to the turkey coma we often feel after stuffing ourselves with delicious foods, so we’ll lay out the science of the post-dinner sleepiness.
Tryptophan makes you sleepy, but there’s more to the reasons why Thanksgiving dinner makes us want to nap.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey, which does make us sleepy. But not just turkey has tryptophan. Many other high protein foods contain tryptophan, and we don’t find ourselves falling asleep every time we eat cheese or nuts. In fact, most foods high in tryptophan also contain other amino acids the LIMIT the affects of tryptophan on our system. So if it’s not the turkey, then what is it?
Thanksgiving sleepiness is caused by the tryptophan in turkey mixed with all the other foods at dinner.
Normally, other amino acids in turkey would block the affects of tryptophan, but when combined with other Turkey Day foods, those amino acids get overwhelmed. Eating mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, and pie floods your system with sugars, so those tryptophan-blocking aminos get used trying to help your body process all the carbs. Then, without its usual blocking system, the tryptophan kicks in and makes you want to go to sleep.
And also, that level of overeating will always make your eyes feel heavy.
Your body diverts so much of its usual energy to your stomach to help digest all those second helpings of food you had to eat. Plus, if you add in any alcohol, you’ll feel those effects slowing you down as well.