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Does Thanksgiving Turkey Make You Sleepy?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Thanksgiving is all about tradition. The day is just not complete without enjoying a massively indulgent meal with family, followed by several dazed hours on the sofa.

Image: clare’s cupcakes

The post-meal laziness that overcomes over-eaters is so widespread that it has become as much a tradition as the turkey itself, leading many Americans to wonder if the two aren’t related.
Tryptophan is a word that comes up in every household on Thanksgiving Day. There is usually at least one sagely aunt or uncle who proposes that their post-meal inertia comes from the high concentration of this chemical in turkey meat. Tryptophan, we are told, makes us tired, and turkey supposedly has high quantities of it. But although tryptophan is a real chemical that is found in turkey and it does relate to your body’s production of seratonin (a brain chemical that makes you feel relaxed), the amount found in turkey is not enough to have a sleepy effect on us. Contrary to Thanksgiving myth, tryptophan is not the real reason you feel like snoring halfway through your second slice of apple pie.

In fact, maybe you should take a closer look at that pie you’re eating. And the stuffing. And the potatoes. And the chips you snacked on before the meal. Turkey gets blamed for making us sluggish on this day of indulgence because it rarely makes a dinner table appearance at any other time of the year, but the truth of our tiredness lies in the carbohydrates.

Tryptophan is actually found in plenty of other proteins, such as chicken, fish and eggs, and you’ve never heard anybody blame their omelette for making them want to nap. The fact is, our beloved Thanksgiving meal involves so much more than turkey – it involves large quantities of carbohydrate heavy foods, which take a lot of energy for our body to digest.

So the next time someone suggests that turkey’s tryptophan is to blame for their chronic case of the yawns, feel free to counter that it’s more likely to be on account of their third helping of mashed potatoes, or maybe the hot mulled wine they’re busy pouring into their glass.

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