For many Americans, Thanksgiving is synonymous for several rounds of traditional grub. And when a food coma is an expected part of the celebration, one cannot help but wonder if the rumors that turkey makes you sleepy are actually true. After all, this particular meat is a distinct part of the holiday; most people only eat it during this time of the year, and there's a big myth surrounding this particular food making diners want to take a nap. Is there any truth to it?
Unsurprisingly, many associate turkey to the inevitable “itis” — a postprandial somnolence, if you want to get technical. According to PBS, most people peg this cause-and-effect to the level of tryptophan in turkey. This chemical is broken down from protein and cannot be produced by the body. Subsequently, humans need to get their fill through food. Tryptophan is also responsible for the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates your sleep by promoting drowsiness. This is exactly where the concept of a “food coma” came from. Doesn’t it all make sense now?
But here is the thing: turkey does not have an exceptionally high level of tryptophan. In fact, foods like chicken and beef have even more of this chemical. The same can be said of chocolate, tofu, and dairy food such as cheese. And when you indulge in a combination of these foods on Thanksgiving, your tryptophan intake skyrockets. Cue the “itis” and much-needed couch time.
Ultimately, turkey does not make you sleepy by itself. And while it does contribute to your tryptophan consumption, it isn’t the only culprit: Any large meal is enough to make you sleepy. This is especially true if you eat fatty food; your body has to work extra hard to digest it.
Refined carbohydrates can also cause a spike in blood sugar, leading to an inevitable energy crash. And then there are the boozy Thanksgiving drinks and listening to Uncle Ray talk his head off. You know how it goes.
So if you’re looking to skip the food coma, don’t worry about ditching the turkey. The key is to eat a modestly-sized meal. This may be a good idea if you’re working (or shopping) on Black Friday. After all, facing all that chaos on a full stomach may be pretty darn tricky.
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