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MYTH: Eating Turkey makes you sleepy!

Nov 22, 2011

We have known the truth of this for years, but turkey is still often blamed for the notorious "after dinner snooze." This supposedly came from the knowledge of experts that state that the high amounts of tryptophan (an essential amino acid) increases the amounts of serotonin produced in the brain. (I did my research and I can't find who the "experts" were). By the way, serotonin is a hormone that helps you feel relaxed.
Well, whoever the experts were, they didn't do a good job on their hypothesis. It has been known that the amounts of tryptophan in turkey is not high enough to have any impact. This is unless, of course, you can eat 20 pounds of turkey on an empty stomach.
So, if it's not the turkey that makes you sleepy, what is it?
Insulin Crash- If you're like most people I know, you will probably go through the entire morning without much to eat (if anything), ready to dive into mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, dressing, et cetera, et cetera. Once you're done stuffing yourself to the rafters, your body is having to handle a great deal of food converting into blood sugar (blood sugar spike-insulin crash). You go from a state of hyperglycemia to hypoglycemia within the hour. Your pancreas will freak out and produce a high amount of insulin to handle the overload. Only problem is, you are most likely to produce too much insulin which will then cause your blood sugar to crash. Along with some other hormonal conditions, this will cause you to feel sleepy. Unfortunately, because of bad eating habits, the insulin crash happens to some people daily. This is what leads to Type II diabetes.
Alcohol- As you know alcohol is a depressant. If you drink with your meal, just know that it is going to contribute to the sleepiness that is about to ensue after eating a whole lot. Enough said.
Circadian Rhythm- Like all mammals, you have a circadian rhythm (an internal clock) of biochemical processes that dictate in particular your sleep habits. Without getting too detailed, the hormone melatonin is a hormone that causes you to get sleepy. At this time of year and in particular Thanksgiving day, a multitude of factors come together to release higher amounts of melatonin. First is the time change and shorter amount of daylight hours. The less daylight you have, the sooner and more melatonin kicks in. If it's cloudy and rainy outside, this is compounded. Second is a disruption of sleep. A lot of times, you force yourself to be awake later the day before Thanksgiving and then sleep late the morning of Thanksgiving. This undoubtedly screws up your sleep rhythm. This happens to me just about every Sunday.

So, now you know. You can stop blaming the turkey for the fatigue you feel. Unless you're eating deep fried turkey, chances are the turkey could be the healthiest food you could eat on Thanksgiving Day.

written by
Kelly Huggins, A-CPT
Exercise Science, B.S.
NPTI Instructor
Fitness Together Fitness/Nutrition Coach
writer, Examiner - Weight Loss and Fitness Myths


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