Unleash The Mystery Behind "Does Turkey Makes You Sleepy?"

by FarmClub Editorial

Unleash The Mystery Behind "Does Turkey Makes You Sleepy?"

Thanksgiving Turkey

As Thanksgiving rolls around, many of you eagerly anticipate staples like pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and all traditional foods.

To be honest, Thanksgiving meal may be the highlight of the holiday, but turkey is undoubtedly the main attraction. And believe it or not, Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without a substantial turkey on the platter!

We've all been there. After feasting and chatting for an hour, you notice that you are becoming incredibly sleepy as you walk away. You genuinely think: "I ate turkey, so I'm sleepy."

But is it truth or a myth?

Today we will unleash this mystery behind the longstanding myth of "Does turkey makes you sleepy?" Read along to find the truth!

What Is In Turkey That Makes You Sleepy?

If you've ever felt your eyelids droop after devouring a turkey feast, there's a good reason!
Turkey often gets a bad reputation as the culprit of sleepiness on Thanksgiving because turkey contains an amino acid that makes you sleepy. Yes, it is considered that Tryptophan in turkey makes you sleepy.

But believe it or not,

Tryptophan in turkey won't make you sleepy!

Yes, you read that right. The presence of Tryptophan in turkey has nothing to do with becoming sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. That's because ingesting carbohydrates can kick your body into gear, meaning that you won't feel drowsy even if you eat turkey before bedtime.

Sleepy after turkey

What Is Tryptophan?

According to research, Tryptophan is an essential amino acid the body cannot make on its own; therefore, it must be consumed through your diet.

The body utilizes Tryptophan to make certain proteins, albeit indirectly, and can promote sleep. In a sequence of processes, the body converts Tryptophan into serotonin. This neurotransmitter aids in controlling sleep in the brain. [1]

Yes, it's true! Tryptophan is the chemical in turkey that makes you sleepy, but it's not among the highest tryptophan foods. All meat includes roughly the same amount of amino acid, so it shouldn't make you feel any sleepier than chicken.

An average 100-gram serving of cooked turkey contains 252 milligrams of Tryptophan, based on USDA's Food Data Central database.

According to an article published in FOX News, Dr. Joan Salge Blake, a nutrition professor at Boston University, states,

"Tryptophan is one of 20 amino acids found in foods and can be converted in your brain to the neurotransmitters, serotonin, and melatonin. Since both compounds play an important role in regulating sleep, it seems logical that Tryptophan has always been fingered as the sleep-inducing culprit behind the Thanksgiving Day nap."

Blake, however, starts to disprove this hypothesis at this point by pointing out that roasted chicken breast typically contains more Tryptophan than turkey.

In fact, turkey doesn't even make the top ten list of tryptophan-containing foods. Cheddar cheese, soybeans, cod, sesame seeds, and even pork chops all contain proportionally more Tryptophan than turkey.

Other Foods That Also Contain Tryptophan

Tryptophan is found in a number of foods, and turkey is probably not the only one. Here are a few to name,

  • Meat (beef, pork, turkey, fish, shellfish)
  • Dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt)
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Oats, brown rice, corn, or quinoa
  • Beans. chickpeas, peas, potatoes
  • Egg white

Tryptophan Alone Won't Give You a Sleeping Pill Effect

So by this point, we came to know that Tryptophan in turkey is not the culprit. In fact, any large meal containing foods with Tryptophan can cause sleepiness. The real culprits are all those carbs from potatoes, peas, corn, vegetables, bread, sweet drinks, stuffing, desserts, and pies.

Massive consumption of carbohydrate-heavy calories causes the release of insulin, which activates the muscles to absorb most of the amino acids from the blood except for Tryptophan.

When all other amino acids are swept away from the bloodstream, Tryptophan has no problem making its way to the brain and influencing the production of serotonin, the true sleep inducer. Whether it's from turkey, pork, or any meat or cheese, a cocktail of Tryptophan and carbohydrates is the real reason behind the post-meal buzz.

Large Portions Meal Triggers Sleep

The more food you eat at once, the more the stomach stretches, and the degree of gastric distension is directly proportional to the subsequent drowsiness. It is good to know that liquid meals make you less tired than solid ones because they stimulate different areas of the stomach and create additional feedback in the brain.

Food rich in protein and fat slows down the rate at which digested food is sent from the stomach to the intestine, and many foods are digested slowly and induce fatigue after a meal.


How to Avoid Drowsiness after a Festive Meal

There's nothing wrong with taking a nap after dinner while you still can—after all, vacations are for relaxation—but if you're hoping not to become one with the couch this year, try these tips.

  • Eating smaller portions [2]
  • Adequate hydration
  • Get up from the table before you get full
  •  Chew well, and don't rush your meals; the satiety signal appears after 20 minutes
  • Leave breaks between meals and snacks, and avoid snacking for 3-4 hours
  • Giving up alcohol, which has a sedative effect and increases drowsiness
  • Emphasis on carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. Choose whole grains, legumes, and fruits to the detriment of pastries, sweets, bread, white rice, and potatoes
  • Avoid combinations of pasta with white sauces, fatty meat with fried potatoes, and polenta with cheese
  • Foods rich in omega 3 (fatty fish, flax seeds), brown rice, eggs, fibrous vegetables, and hard fruits are recommended
  • Get out in the fresh air. Physical activity promotes ventilation of the lungs and improves the blood supply to the brain. Thanks to such walks, you will be more cheerful
  • Take your last meal three hours before bed

Bottom Line

So what makes you sleepy after the turkey?

Let's recap...

Turkey contains Tryptophan, but no more than chicken, beef, and other meats. The drowsiness you feel after a rich Thanksgiving meal may be due to the incorporation of large amounts of carbohydrates (dressing, rolls, mashed potatoes), which increases the production of sleep-inducing melatonin. Plus, the fats in the meal, alcohol, overeating, and the usual fatigue can all be affected.

Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis. Nutrients8(1), 56.

[2] Reyner, L. A., Wells, S. J., Mortlock, V., & Horne, J. A. (2012). ‘Post-lunch’sleepiness during prolonged, monotonous driving—Effects of meal size. Physiology & behavior105(4), 1088-1091.