Turkey-Day Brain Drain: Fact or Fiction

by Arden Izzo
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Thanksgiving is a day that’s famous for grace and gluttony. Feasting on Thanksgiving is a cherished tradition in American households as families across the country gather together to eat generous servings of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroles, pies, and other caloric delights.

Another time-honored Turkey-Day tradition: The Post Thanksgiving Nap. After indulging in copious amounts of savory, sweets, and spirits, many snuggle on the couch to watch football and doze off. Turkey is often cited as the culprit for this after dinner lethargy because it contains Tryptophan, an amino acid that induces sleep. But is the Turkey Tryptophan Fog fact or fiction?

According to research, turkey isn’t any more sleep-inducing than other foods.

L-tryptophan, however, IS sleep inducing. This amino acid helps produce the B-vitamin, niacin which is used to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes us calm and regulates sleep. While turkey does contain L-tryptophan, studies show that it needs to be eaten on an empty stomach in order to feel sleepy. How many Thanksgiving dinners consist of Turkey and ONLY turkey (source)?

Turkey is indeed a good source of tryptophan, but according to research it contains no more of this amino acid than other meats. Chicken and ground beef contain almost the same amount of tryptophan as turkey — about 350 milligrams per 4-ounce serving (source.)

So what makes us gravitate to the couch after the big holiday meal? Experts believe it has more to do with the carbs, the alcohol, and the general amount of consumption. After eating, your body sends blood to the gastrointestinal tract to digest the food. This means less blood flow to the brain which can make you feel foggy. Also, loading the stomach with fat and protein stretches the small intestine which, according to research, also induces sleepiness (source.)

So this Thanksgiving, don’t blame the turkey for the post postprandial lull: embrace it! But if naps aren’t your jam, you can always keep those brain cells active by impressing your family with brain hacks and facts. Click HERE for some ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Arden Izzo
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