Thanksgiving is here, and while some people choose ham or other types of holiday meat, many people are preparing to feast on the tender Thanksgiving turkey. If you’re a turkey eater during the holidays, chances are you’ve heard a time or two that turkey can make you sleepy after eating it. Or perhaps you yourself have experienced post-Thanksgiving meal drowsiness. But how much truth is there to this claim? Can turkey really make you sleepy?
To get to the bottom of this, we spoke to a registered dietitian Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LDauthor The Sports Nutrition Playbook and a member of our Expert Medical Board. Here’s what she had to say about this belief – and for more expert insight courtesy of Amy Goodson, also be sure to check out Why a Dietitian Says You Don’t Need to Avoid Dairy Milk.
Can eating turkey make you sleepy?
According to Goodson, this claim is more myth than reality. To better understand why, however, it’s important to first look at the science behind the whole concept of turkey inducing drowsiness.
“Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps promote good sleep and good mood,” says Goodson. “Tryptophan is involved in the production of serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood, and melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. That’s how turkey was associated with feeling sleepy on Thanksgiving.”
In fact, research shows that tryptophan may be able to help with circadian rhythm and immune function. However, Goodson explains why turkey tryptophan levels aren’t high enough to put you to sleep.
“Just to put it in perspective, a three-ounce serving of turkey contains about 250-310 mg of tryptophan, but a typical tryptophan supplement to help sleep would give you anywhere from 1,000-5,000 milligrams,” says Goodson. “So you’d have to eat too many parts of turkey to get there – which is unlikely.”
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The real reason may be that you feel tired after eating Thanksgiving dinner
It’s perfectly normal to feel a little sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal – or any big feast for that matter. But Goodson stresses that this is unlikely to be due to the turkey alone. Rather, it’s more likely that your sleepiness stems from all the food you’re eating on Thanksgiving Day.
“Think about all the carbohydrates and sweets you’re eating, because large amounts of carbohydrates can cause blood sugar to spike – and the amount that goes up needs to be reduced. [In other words,] this means you may feel a little sleepy in the hours after your big meal,” says Goodson.
What you eat isn’t the only factor that can affect your level of exhaustion after eating Thanksgiving dinner. The amount of food you eat on turkey day can also make a difference in how tired you feel after the meal.
“Since most people eat a bit more at Thanksgiving dinner, more blood flow is directed to your digestive tract than your brain in the hours after you eat, which can contribute to feeling tired too,” says Goodson.
At the end of the day, there’s no shame in feeling tired and a little lazy after a heavy Thanksgiving feast. In fact, that’s what watching football or movies with your family is all about. But instead of blaming all the sleepiness on the turkey, keep in mind that it’s more likely to come from eating a big meal in general.