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Does Turkey Make You Tired?

Published in Sleep Medicine, For the Health of It Author: Jennifer Miller,PhD,DBSM

Have you ever eaten a big Thanksgiving meal and curled up on the couch afterward for a little nap? If so, you’ve likely been told that turkey is the culprit for your sleepiness. Although it’s unclear when that saying first started, we do know it’s not exactly true.

So, why has this popular Thanksgiving myth been so widely accepted? Turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan; a chemical compound known to cause drowsiness.

A person would have to eat about eight pounds of turkey to have a high enough level of tryptophan in their system to make the statement true.

The chemical compound is also found in other foods, such as milk. Hence some people think it helps with sleep to drink a warm cup of milk before bed.

If you’re feeling tired after your Thanksgiving feast, the main reason is likely having consumed a big meal that has a lot of carbohydrates. The quantity of food and carbs can give people the “food coma” feeling. If you combine that with alcohol, it’s a recipe for fatigue and sleepiness.

You can combat that tired feeling by limiting how much food you eat, avoiding alcohol consumption, and cutting down on carbs. It’s also helpful to find ways to be active after eating a big meal. Even a light walk can improve that post-meal fatigue.

For people turning to coffee and caffeine for an energy boost, it's best to avoid them within six to eight hours before your desired bedtime. That means, it’s a little too late in the day to indulge in that after-Thanksgiving meal cup of coffee.

As for energy drinks, it's best to avoid them completely. They have been associated with several health risks.

You may be tempted to take a short nap, but it’s generally not recommended. It can cause more harm than good by affecting a person’s ability to stay asleep at night. Instead, take that walk.

You can be proactive leading up to your holiday gathering by avoiding too many carbs, getting a good night of sleep beforehand and staying properly hydrated.