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Does Turkey Make Us Sleepy or is There More to It?

Turkey on Thanksgiving Day

Most will recognize the feeling: Sitting back in your chair as a wave of sleepiness overcomes you after gobbling down a heaping plate of Thanksgiving grub. Traditionally, it is said that Turkey is to blame for feeling so ready to pass out in bed after a Thanksgiving feast. This isn’t just a saying, there is truth to it!

Turkey has certain levels of tryptophan, the go-to amino acid if you are looking to get sleepy. This causes Turkey Day participators to assume it’s the turkey that does them in at the end of the day. However, interestingly enough, as a food, turkey doesn’t even make it on the top 50 foods that contain significant levels of tryptophan.

That being said, it is important to note that although turkey does not make this list, it still has high numbers of tryptophan. Confused yet? Let us explain.

Although the high levels of this amino acid are present, the sleepiness effect from tryptophan will not be triggered unless it has the proper accomplice amino acid. Instead of blaming the turkey it scientifically makes more sense to look to the mashed potatoes, bread rolls, and yams that regularly appear on Thanksgiving tables and in our bellies each year. Yep, good old carbohydrates.

“When you eat carbohydrates, the pancreas releases insulin and one effect of that is to lower the levels of all the large amino acids in your blood -- except for tryptophan. The upshot? You have relatively high levels of tryptophan in your blood, and in your brain, that's converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin, and that can make you sleepy.” - Scientific American

So, the carbohydrates seem to actually be the accomplice that the turkey needs to work its sleepy magic. However, the carbs alone could do the job. The funny thing is, if you were to eat just Turkey on Thanksgiving day, without anything else, you most likely wouldn’t feel fatigued at all. Due to the fact that turkey is a protein, you might even have some extra get-up-and-go after your meal.

It’s important to remember that it doesn’t always necessarily come down to the science of sleepiness when it comes to Thanksgiving. This is a day during which an abnormal amount of food is consumed — along with a glass of 4 of wine. When you’re eating more than you’re used to in one sitting — giving your digestive system more work than its used to — then you’re sure to feel some fatigue.

All in all, it comes down to the fact that, yes, we tend to feel sleepy after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. To ensure that you benefit fully from this sleepiness, try following some of these helpful tips to quality sleep:

1. Eat at least two hours before bedtime.

Due to the fact that you will be eating so much in one sitting on Thanksgiving and your digestive system will be in overdrive, try to make sure you eat with plenty of time in between the end of dessert and bedtime. Going to bed while your body is digesting means your body will be in full work mode, even while you’re sleeping, which negatively affects REM cycles. A.K.A. lack of quality sleep.

  • 2. Go on a digestive walk with your family/friends after you finish dessert.
  • A quick little walk around the block with your Thanksgiving crew is a great way to recover from a big meal. This is not only a great way to continue the fun on Thanksgiving, but it also helps your body kick into a digestive mode.

    3. Make sure you have a quality mattress that aids your body’s natural movements to ensure proper digestion.

    Our micro-stimulation (MiS) system moves with your body as you sleep, reducing tossing and turning. A mattress that works with your body’s natural movements elicited proper body functions.  

  • 4. Finish off the night with some calming digestion tea after dessert.
  • A nice warm cup of tea to wrap up the night around the dinner table allows time for post-dinner chatting and, with the correct tea, will help your digestion flow smoothly.

    We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!