This Thanksgiving, millions of Americans will join family and friends around the table. We’ll share what we’re thankful for and engage in that time-honored Thanksgiving tradition of enjoying a huge meal of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, followed by pumpkin pie… and a nap in front of the TV.
Along with those traditions comes one almost as popular: blaming turkey, specifically tryptophan, for the reason no one can seem to keep the party going.
So, are they right? Is turkey the culprit for Thanksgiving sleepiness?
What is tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an amino acid, an essential nutrient in our diet that the body can’t produce. The body uses it in the process of making vitamin B3 and serotonin. While vitamin B is important for digestion, skin and nerves, serotonin is a chemical that impacts our moods. Serotonin can help create a feeling of well-being and relaxation. And what do you tend to do when you are relaxed? Perhaps take a little snooze?
Tryptophan is not unique to turkey. It’s found in other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts and a slew of other foods. And, some of these foods, such as cheddar cheese, actually have more tryptophan per gram than turkey.
You’re probably thinking: I eat many of these other foods and don’t struggle to stay awake. Why is it that on Thanksgiving, I can’t wait to find a comfy spot to close my eyes?
What is to blame for our need to nap?
Well, there are actually a few things at play.
Because many of the foods associated with Thanksgiving are high in fat, the body redirects blood to your digestive system to allow you to digest it. Since you have less blood flow elsewhere, you feel less energetic.
Additionally, the holidays can be a bit stressful; the most relaxing part is once all the preparation, traveling and planning is over and you can eat. While eating, you have the opportunity to sit back and relax. Add alcohol to the equation and the result is you feeling drowsier than usual.
Can you fight the urge to snooze?
The easiest thing to do is eat less food. That’s probably not going to happen, so the next best option is to ease up on high-carbohydrate foods (potatoes, stuffing, etc.). These foods tend to cut short the insulin response that fights tryptophan.
Also, plan some type of activity after your meal, such as a brisk walk or a game of touch football. This will help you digest the food a bit better and reenergize you. And if the weather isn’t cooperating, simply volunteer to do the dishes just to stay on your feet and be active.
Any type of activity that keeps you moving will allow you to spend more time with your loved ones, and isn’t that what the holidays are all about anyway?