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Sleepy After the Thanksgiving Feast? Don’t Blame the Turkey

You’ve feasted on turkey and all the trimmings of a Thanksgiving meal, and now all you can think about is a nap. That turkey! It made me sleepy, you might think. But is turkey really the culprit?

The Turkey-Tryptophan Connection—Is There Really One?

Turkey meat contains tryptophan, an amino acid that the body needs to make Vitamin B3 (Niacin) and serotonin, a hormone that helps you relax and—yes, makes you sleepy. But turkey has 250 to 310 milligrams of tryptophan in a 3-ounce serving—a little less than chicken. But if turkey is the cause, why don’t we feel sleepy after eating a turkey sandwich on wheat during lunch at work?

Also, turkey isn’t the only food that is high in tryptophan. Fish, nuts and beans also deliver a healthy dose of the amino acid. So if you haven’t been falling asleep in your salmon, maybe there’s something more involved in the post-Thanksgiving snooze than eating turkey.

Could it Be—Carbs?

For most of us, turkey is just a small part of the Thanksgiving dinner. There’s stuffing. And gravy. And cranberry sauce. And potatoes. And green bean casserole. And mac and cheese—not to mention the offerings on the dessert table. Many of these foods also are high in refined carbohydrates. Eating them causes insulin to dip, making us feel tired. If we’re filling our plate to the brim with carbs—as we tend to do at Thanksgiving, that drowsy feeling only grows as the blood rushes to the digestive system, and breaking down the food takes priority over staying awake and alert.

Identifying Other Potential Culprits

Beyond the tryptophan, the influx of carbs, and the sheer amount of food we eat at Thanksgiving, other factors can contribute to post-meal sleepiness. Thanksgiving mealWhile Thanksgiving Day and its preparation—shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, etc. — can be something we look forward to, it also can be stressful. Drinking a lot of alcohol with the meal—or during the many football games you watch on TV that day—can add to the exhaustion.

Avoiding the Thanksgiving Nap

Although the post-Thanksgiving snooze may be part of your tradition, it’s also not fun to feel overstuffed and too tired to enjoy the day. If you’d like to avoid feeling exhausted after the meal, here are some ideas:

  • Eat small, healthy meals during the day. Don’t make the main meal your first or you’re sure to overindulge.
  • Put small portions on your plate, and if you’d like, go back to revisit your favorites.
  • Eat slowly and take breaks to gauge how full you are. This gives your brain time to receive the message from your stomach that you’re full.
  • Stop eating once you’re full. Ask for a small portion of leftovers to eat the next day so you don’t have to feel you must consume a huge serving at once.
  • After the meal, take a walk outside to help your meal digest.

Now that you know your post-Thanksgiving tiredness really isn’t the turkey’s fault, consider some small ways you can back away from the buffet and still enjoy the food and the day.

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