It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving is here and with it comes a feast of epic proportion. Although every household has their own cast of sides and desserts, there is one culinary offering that has remained relatively unchanged since the very first Thanksgiving—turkey.
Now, with nearly 46 million turkeys consumed each year for the occasion, it should come as no surprise that turkey prep has radically evolved over the years. Some like them fried. Others like them smoked. Regardless of cooking method, however, one thing never changes: diners everywhere continue to blame turkey for all those post-meal pass outs . It is true? Does turkey actually make you sleepy?
Why does turkey make you feel sleepy?
Blame the turkey all you’d like, but it’s not the only reason you’re prone to sleep after all that dark meat and stuffing. On the contrary, food coma and tryptophan-rich turkey pummel you like you’re part of a figurative WWE tag-team match until you’ve been wrestled into submission. You may remember food coma (or post-prandial somnolence) as the natural feeling of fatigue you experience after eating a large meal. With turkey day dinner (or lunch) clocking in as one of the largest meals of the year, it only makes sense why the resulting food coma is all the more severe.
Add to your food coma the effects of the amino acid tryptophan and you’ll quickly realize that you never stood a chance in the first place. That’s because essential amino acids — like tryptophan, one of eleven in total — trigger a handful of biochemical reactions only when consumed in the food you eat. Two molecules in the body that are directly affected by turkey consumption: serotonin and melatonin.
While serotonin is the calming biochemical that causes you to feel happy, melatonin is the molecule responsible for maintaining circadian rhythms, or our natural daily cycles, including sleep. Tryptophan, when consumed in the form of turkey, is ultimately metabolized by the body to form both serotonin and melatonin, leaving you calm and in almost all cases really, really sleepy.
How can you prevent getting sleepy on Thanksgiving?
I’m afraid the only solution to this problem is avoiding the feast all-together…which is definitely not an option when it comes to the holidays. My advice: embrace the lethargy. Rather than fight, settle into your favorite Barcalounger with a post-fete glass of single-malt scotch, kick up your feet and tune out the world. Afterall, the in-laws can’t harass you if you’re sound asleep in the den.
Happy Thanksgiving from The Food Scientist. Always eat, and drink, responsibly.