One of the many Thanksgiving traditions that seem to be given a place of honor in many homes is the after-dinner nap. When you head for the couch this year, however, you may just want to remind yourself and others that eating turkey does not really make you tired.
The myth comes about for good reason. Turkey does contain an amino acid involved in sleep, L-tryptophan. That amino acid is used by the body to produce niacin, a type of vitamin B that is responsible for producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Your body then uses serotonin to regulate your sleeping patterns by producing melatonin. It’s a chain reaction that many people have thought causes you to get tired after eating turkey. What you might not know, however, is that many other foods also contain similar levels of tryptophan, such as poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.
The science behind it is also compelling. Tryptophan can produce serotonin in the brain but it has to cross the blood-brain barrier in order to do so. In the process, it has to fight many other amino acids that are also trying to accomplish the same thing. Tryptophan uses carbohydrates to get ahead in that interior competition. According to Elizabeth Sommer, a registered dietitian speaking with WebMD, the best way to increase serotonin is to eat an all carbohydrates snack shortly after you eat tryptophan. The carbs will help to carry that amino acid into the brain from the bloodstream.
We tend to eat a lot on Thanksgiving but it isn’t about snacking, it’s about stuffing your face with everything you possibly can while you are at the dinner table. Stuffing, turkey, potatoes, gravy and a generous amount of alcohol are more likely to cause your postmeal nap then the turkey alone. Anytime you overeat food, especially if it is high in fat, your body has to work hard in order to digest it. Blood is redirected from elsewhere in the body to the digestive system, causing a drop in energy. The nervous system depressant you are consuming in the form of alcohol also slows down your internal organs and brain.
It’s always nice to have a scapegoat and tryptophan seems to take the blame for the Thanksgiving day nap. Just make sure that you spread the blame around to some of the other items on the Thanksgiving dinner table.