Sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner? Don't blame the bird

Expert busts popular Thanksgiving dinner myth

Published On: Nov 27 2013 05:53:32 PM EST
Turkey dinner

If you feel sleepy after eating your Thanksgiving dinner, experts say you can’t totally blame the bird.

Turkey is rich in an amino acid called tryptophan. For years, it's been thought the tryptophan is what makes many head for the couch in search of a nap after the Thanksgiving feast.

But Cleveland Clinic registered dietitian Tara Harwood says it’s actually the carbohydrates in the Turkey Day dinner that actually kick-start the process.

"A high concentration of carbohydrates with a long chain of chemical reactions can also cause the same effect, causing the tryptophan to actually enter the brain, then being metabolized into serotonin, making you feel tired," said Harwood.

Turns out, that sleepy feeling is caused by a three-step process. First, we eat the Thanksgiving dinner loaded with carbohydrates, which cause the tryptophan to enter the brain. Once tryptophan gets into the brain, it increases our serotonin levels. The serotonin is then metabolized into melatonin, which causes us to feel sleepy.

Researchers say if your stomach is empty when you start eating these foods, you’ll feel the effect of tryptophan even more intensely because of the lack of amino acids in your stomach.

Harwood said overeating does not help either.

"You’re eating so much that more blood flow is trying to go to the stomach to actually digest it, and you’re moving that blood flow away from other systems in the body, including the central nervous system, so therefore as you’re working to digest this, you’re feeling more sluggish and tired," said Harwood.

To fight off that sleepy feeling, Harwood recommends taking a post-meal walk to burn some of those calories.