Does Thanksgiving Turkey Really Make You Sleepy?

A big turkey dinner

For many years people have loved to curl up on the coach after eating turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Someone has probably told you in the past that it’s “tryptophan” in turkey that makes you so sleepy after a turkey dinner. Is this true? The answer is Yes and No.

Turkey does contain the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan. Tryptophan is important in the formation of a hormone secreted by your brain called Serotonin which produces feelings of well-being and relaxation. So, is it he tryptophan that makes you tired after a big turkey dinner? The answer is NO.

The process of digesting and absorbing tryptophan so it can help produce serotonin is a slow process, so feelings of lethargy and happiness after dinner is not related to tryptophan from the turkey. You can tell your friends and family that turkey actually has less tryptophan than chicken. When was the last time someone ate a chicken breast and felt they needed to take a nap?

However, a turkey dinner can make you sleepy. Why? Simply because we tend to overeat at Thanksgiving dinner. Fess up. You’ve gone 3 plates deep before, right! Trying to digest all that food from overeating requires a lot of energy and your parasympathetic nervous system takes over – making you feel tired.

The happiness is probably from the satisfaction of being with family, carrying out traditions,… and possibly any alcohol you were consuming. : )

So try not to overeat this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Dr. Rob