The Myth of Tryptophan: Can Thanksgiving Turkey Put You to Sleep?

The Thanksgiving feast is over, and everyone is falling asleep to the sounds of football. Invariably, they blame the turkey.

Urban legend, myth or wives tale – everyone’s heard the theory that tryptophan causes the sleepiness that comes with eating too much turkey. But, is the culprit the biochemical in the bird or, perhaps, something else?

Snopes.com, the website that debunks urban legends, cries foul on the turkey and tryptophan theory. According to the site, the more likely cause is overeating.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that works as a natural sedative on the brain. While it’s true that tryptophan is found in turkey (along with milk, beef, and beans), you have to eat it on an empty stomach and consume no other protein to feel the sedative effect. Even on Thanksgiving, most people aren’t going to eat enough turkey to fall afoul to tryptophan.

So what explains the lethargy that comes after a Thanksgiving feast?

More often than not, Thanksgiving sluggishness is linked to the heavy consumption of high-calorie, high-carb foods accompanied by alcohol. Research shows that the body responds to solid foods by increasing blood flow to the abdomen and accelerating the metabolic rate – both of which lead to the feeling of falling into a “food coma.”

Although the Thanksgiving tryptophan-induced food coma is a myth, the lethargy that overtakes many people after the day’s feast is a reality. Follow these simple tips to keep Thanksgiving sluggishness at bay:

Plan your plate.

You can’t have a low-calorie snack or meal during the holidays if there aren’t any available. Plan ahead by bringing fruits or veggies with a healthy dip to snack on. Filling up on low-calorie foods will leave less room for fattening holiday fare.

Drink your fill (of water).

Water makes us feel full and less likely to overeat. Before you indulge, drink water to slow yourself down.

All tasty things in moderation.

Eat moderate portions of the dishes you like. Unless the dessert is something you love, skip it or take a small “taste.” Don’t feel you should eat something just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Make sure to chew.

Slowing down and savoring the food you eat gives your body time to realize it’s getting full.

Thanksgiving thanks.

Enjoy the company of family and friends to take the focus off of endless eating.

Take a walk.

After the feast, continue to visit with family and friends over a short walk. You’ll feel less tired and start the digestion process a little faster.

Don’t eat yourself up.

If you overdo it on Thanksgiving, don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow is a new day to be healthy.

Need a better reason not to overeat at Thanksgiving?

Findings from a Swedish study show that even a short period of overeating can lead to an unhealthy weight gain in the long term. Study participants who over-indulged for four weeks still had an increase in weight more than two years after the study, with an increase in fat mass from 20 to 24 percent in just one month.

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