Every year over Thanksgiving we over eat and typically fall asleep early from being overfull, unless you are out shopping at 6pm to get your hands on a good deal. So what is it about Thanksgiving food that makes us so sleepy? Is turkey to blame? Despite popular belief turkey is not the only reason we become sleepy after a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey contains tryptophan which is protein that the body cannot make by itself so it must be consumed through our diet. Tryptophan is one component of a brain chemical called serotonin that the body converts to melatonin which helps induce sleep.

Turkey isn’t the only food that contains tryptophan and in fact per gram, cheese contains more tryptophan than turkey. “Tryptophan competes with all of the body’s other amino acids to enter the brain, through a strict gatekeeper known as the blood-brain barrier. It’s the heaps of carbohydrates — the stuffing, potatoes and yams smothered in marshmallows — that are the true problem, according to medical experts.

Consuming carbs triggers the release of insulin, which removes most amino acids from the blood, but not tryptophan — that dearth of competitors allows tryptophan to enter the brain and form serotonin and, ultimately, melatonin. (Melatonin can also be produced in the intestine, and a small amount of that may ultimately leak out into the bloodstream and end up in the brain, too.)”

(https://www.livescience.com/41543-thanksgiving-myth-busted-eating-turkey-won-t-make-you-sleepy.html) The body is a complex system and over the holidays we tend to throw our vacation hat on and indulge a little too much. If you drink alcohol over Thanksgiving and also over eat, these two factors play a big role in the sleepy syndrome that follows this divine meal.

Here are a few tips to help combat sleepy syndrome:

  1. Eat a good breakfast
    1. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving meal to eat for the day. When you eat on an empty and an overly hungry stomach, it encourages you to over indulge even more and leads to becoming too full because you eat so fast. Eating a hearty breakfast will help give your body energy and help you eat a little less later in the day.
  2. Know that there is always more food
    1. Thanksgiving feast can be one of the best meals of the year but that doesn’t mean it is the only time of the year when turkey, green bean casseroles, sweet potato casseroles, and desserts are available. You can always make these components throughout the year.
  3. Leftovers
    1. One thing about such a feast is that there are generally always leftovers to take home. If you eat a little less during Thanksgiving feast, that’s more leftovers available for the taking. Left overs always taste great and allow for one less night of cooking following a busy holiday.

Enjoy the time with family and friends over this Holiday season. Remember, moderation is key!

Written By: Rachael Omdoll, Campus Dietitian