MEDICAL INSIGHTS: Don’t blame the turkey for Thanksgiving drowsiness

November 19, 2018

Many of us have experienced drowsiness following a large Thanksgiving meal. Some have speculated that the turkey is to blame because it is thought to contain high amounts of the amino acid tryptophan.

This particular amino acid is needed for the synthesis of proteins. Tryptophan is also an essential amino acid because it cannot be produced by the human body but it is necessary for optimal health. Tryptophan also is a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin which is a chemical associated with healthy sleep. Melatonin is a neurohormone that also depends on tryptophan as a precursor. Melatonin plays a role in regulating sleep and wakefulness and is used as a treatment for insomnia.

However turkey contains no more tryptophan than other forms of animal protein such as beef, chicken or fish. Tryptophan is found in milk, oats, chocolate, dried dates, peanuts, eggs and almonds.

Research performed at Texas A&M University by Nicholas Deuts revealed that eating turkey has little to do with sleepiness following a meal and turkey is not high in tryptophan content. The drowsiness at Thanksgiving is related to eating large amounts of other foods, particularly carbohydrates and fats as well as alcohol in the form of beer and wine.

The average Thanksgiving meal contains about 3,000 calories. Cheddar cheese contains more tryptophan than turkey as does chicken. So if you are drowsy after the Thanksgiving meal, it is not because of the turkey you just ate. Consider the stuffing, bread, potatoes and dessert as other sources of drowsiness because of the carbohydrate content. Eating carbs increases brain serotonin levels. Fatty foods as well as meal related distention of the intestines also tends to stimulate drowsiness.

The Pilgrims celebrated after their first harvest in 1621. This “First Thanksgiving” lasted three days and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.

Thanksgiving had been celebrated intermittently since 1789, but Abraham Lincoln declared it an official holiday on Nov. 26, 1863. Since then, the fourth Thursday of November is our special day.

Turkey was probably not eaten on a regular basis at Thanksgiving until after 1863. Now Thanksgiving Day is the largest American eating event and over 280 million turkeys are raised in the U.S. annually and one-third of consumption is on Thanksgiving Day.

Therefore go ahead and pig out on turkey and then have a nice nap.

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