Medical Mythbusters: The turkey made me do it!

There are a lot of traditions at Thanksgiving; turkey, pumpkin pie, football games, shopping, and of course “the nap”.   At my house dinner usually begins around two.  After the meal has been blessed, the football fanatics fill their plates and head to the family room to cheer on their favorite teams.  The non-football inclined take their plates to the table and kibitz.  About an hour or so later a quick glance into the family room usually reveals that the football fanatics have transitioned to “the nap”. 

The fanatics, of course, would argue that the turkey made them sleepy.  Turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan.  Tryptophan helps the body produce the B-vitamin niacin which in turn helps the body produce serotonin.  Serotonin acts as a calming agent in the brain and plays a key role in sleep.  Hence the myth that turkey makes you sleepy. 

But… tryptophan works best on an empty stomach and let’s face it, at Thanksgiving, no ones’ stomach is empty!  The turkey is competing with the potatoes, veggies, rolls, and deserts and only a small part actually makes it to the brain to produce serotonin.

The more likely culprit for the after dinner nap is a combination of things.  You have on a new fall sweater, dressed up for the relatives, which is making you a bit warm.  It’s the middle of the afternoon and the sun is shining through the windows causing you to squint a bit, i.e. close your eyes.  You’ve just consumed an enormous meal of 3000+ calories with significant carbs, and more than likely you’re a bit sleep deprived.  All of these together have the perfect makings of a nap!

So, don’t blame the turkey for that after dinner rest.  Instead, give thanks this Thanksgiving for the blessings of a wonderful meal eaten with family and friends and for the opportunity to catch up a little bit on your sleep.

Submitted by Tina Comston, M.Ed.

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