Medical Misconception: Turkey Makes You Sleepy

Each month, we weigh in on a health and wellness myth and explain the real cause behind the malady.

This month’s misconception: Turkey makes you sleepy

We all know the saying that turkey will make you sleepy on Thanksgiving, but is there any science behind the claim?

Some have suggested that tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is the culprit behind us becoming sleepy after eating turkey on Thanksgiving. Tryptophan helps the body produce hormones serotonin and melatonin that help with sleep cycles.

The body does not make tryptophan and must get it through diet. Animal products such as eggs, milk, yogurt and meats are sources of tryptophan.

Although turkey is a source of tryptophan, chicken and beef contain the same amount. Certain dairy products like yogurt and cheese contain even more.

Turkey is not the culprit that makes you sleepy; it is the carbohydrates at your meal. A Thanksgiving meal filled with calorie-dense carbohydrates will stimulate the production of serotonin, resulting in a food coma that some may experience following their Thanksgiving meal.

How to avoid a food coma
To keep yourself from feeling overly tired on Thanksgiving, try these tips:

  • Choose a smaller plate.
  • Do not rush your Thanksgiving meal. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to eat your meal.
  • Skip seconds and stop eating when you feel satisfied.
  • Fill your plate with low-starch vegetables that will fill you up without all the calories.
  • Eat in moderation. Enjoy your stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, but do not go overboard.
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