Turkey isn’t the reason you’re sleepy — really


Do you believe in holiday food coma?

A lot of people do that. A mainstay on the table this time of year, turkey contains tryptophan, which andIt is thought to be responsible for the uncontrollable yawning and sudden naps common after large family feasts.

“Tryptophan is an essential amino acid needed to produce serotonin, a hormone that has many functions in our body, including balancing mood and sleep,” said sleep specialist Raj Dasgupta, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California, Keck. Medical School.

“A byproduct of the tryptophan-serotonin process is melatonin, another hormone that regulates our sleep cycle,” he said. “Our bodies don’t naturally produce tryptophan, so we have to get it through the food we eat.”

However, many foods besides turkey contain tryptophan, including cheese, chicken, egg whites, fish, milk, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame, soybeans, and sunflower seeds, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Serotonin is one of the “feel good” hormones that can calm and relax the body. However, we don’t consume nearly enough turkey during a holiday meal — even if we go back for seconds — to create the amount of serotonin needed to put us to sleep, said Stephen Mullin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Don't blame turkey for your post-meal sleepiness, experts say.

To get the amount of tryptophan needed to induce a food coma, he said, we’d have to eat about 8 pounds of turkey meat — about half of a typical bird meant to serve a crowd. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends planning for one pound of turkey per person when preparing a holiday meal.

“Tryptophan from turkey is unlikely to get into the brain and create enough serotonin to put us to sleep,” Malin said.

So you can’t just blame the eater on your desk for your sudden sleepiness, said sleep specialist Kristen Knutson, an associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Turkey doesn’t really make us sleepy,” Knutson said. “If we feel sleepy after a big meal, it’s probably because we didn’t get enough sleep in the days leading up to the big event and are finally able to relax after the dinner is over.”

Overeating in general is also a major culprit in post-meal fatigue, Dasgupta said.

“Remember all the delicious side dishes that surround the turkey centerpiece, such as sweet potato pie, casseroles and delicious desserts,” he said. “These tasty dishes contain a large amount of carbohydrates, which also contribute to sleepiness after a meal.

Another reason you feel sleepy after a meal is a change in blood flow from your head to your digestive system.

“Eating a big holiday dinner causes increased blood flow to the stomach to help digest the meal, which leads to less blood flow to the brain, making you tired and ready for sleep,” Dasgupta said.

And don’t forget the impact of holiday drinking. Many dishes served at this time of year are washed down with wine, cocktails and champagne. Then there’s the ubiquitous beer (or two or three) that often accompany afternoon games.

“Let’s face it, it’s the holidays and maybe there’s stress in the family or travel fatigue, so you might have had more than your usual amount,” Dasgupta said. “Alcohol slows down your brain and relaxes your muscles, so after a few drinks you’re likely to be drowsy.”


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