It’s Thanksgiving Day – the holiday reserved for gratitude, family, and an endless amount of side dishes to accompany the holiday turkey. A parade of food makes its way from the kitchen to the table to your plate. Your plate is piled high with all the trimmings: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes dripping with butter, green beans, and cranberry sauce. The wine bottle makes its way around the table, followed closely by the pumpkin and pecan pies. After chatting with relatives and taking a second helping of potatoes, you find yourself fast asleep under a blanket on the nearest couch.
Have you ever wondered why Thanksgiving often ends in a nap? Many are divided as to why people often feel so sleepy after the big “turkey day” meal.
The cause of this post-feast grogginess has long been debated around the dinner table. Many attribute it to tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey, but despite the persistence of the myth, turkey isn’t to blame for the Thanksgiving nap. In fact, tryptophan can be found in nearly all meats, as well as dairy products, nuts, and even vegetarian fare like tofu! So, if tryptophan caused drowsiness, we would feel groggy after eating just about any protein (which is not the case).
So if tryptophan isn’t the culprit, why do we feel so sleepy after our Thanksgiving meal?
According to Dr. Leslie Bonci, director of Sports Nutrition at the UPMC Sports Medicine, a combination of factors are at play. “Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help one to relax. Turkey contains many amino acids, not just tryptophan, and most likely the cause for drowsiness after a Thanksgiving meal is the huge volume of food consumed,” she says. “Turkey also contains may other amino acids, so it is not just tryptophan that gets absorbed.”
It seems the enormous amount of food we often consume during the holidays is more to blame than turkey alone. So, if you want to stay awake on Thanksgiving Day, opt for smaller portions and skip the second helping of pie. You can always enjoy the leftovers on the 28th!