Is Turkey Really Responsible for That Post-Thanksgiving Comatose State?

A Dime Saved
2 min readNov 17, 2023
Child painting father’s face while he sleeping on April Fool’s Day. Image Credit: New Africa/Shutterstock.

In about two weeks millions of Americans will be gathered around tables celebrating Thanksgiving, and gracing those tables will be the main course of the day: Turkey. According to the USDA around 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving.

And after consuming the turkey? Well, most people take a nap because Turkey makes you sleepy… or does it?

Does Turkey Make You Tired?

Morgan Pfiffner, a researcher at Examine.com with a master’s degree in nutrition, debunks the long-running myth that eating turkey during Thanksgiving dinner makes you sleepy.

Every year during Thanksgiving millions of Americans gather around the table to feast on mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, and, of course, turkey. For some of us who overindulge, we are often left in a post-Thanksgiving food coma and have read that “something” in the turkey is the culprit of our drowsiness.

That “something” is a nutrient called tryptophan, but it’s not the only culprit. Tryptophan is one of the naturally occurring amino acids — the building blocks of proteins in our body. Turkey is a great source of this essential amino acid, but it is not the only source — many meats and other proteins have comparable amounts.

According to research, tryptophan is used by the human body to make serotonin, one of the “feel-good” hormones, which can calm and relax the body. However, we don’t consume nearly enough turkey during a holiday feast to have a major impact.

How Much You Eat

So what’s the real reason you get drowsy on Thanksgiving? It’s not so much what you eat, but how much you eat.

Thanksgiving dinner is usually a large meal, rich in carbs, fat, and protein (and possibly alcohol, too). When this massive influx of calories reaches your intestines, a chemical called CCK (cholecystokinin) is released. CCK acts as a “fullness signal” that tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat (keeping you from eating that fourth plate of food). But this CCK surge has another effect: it makes you feel sleepy, possibly as an evolved response so you’ll relax and let your body focus on digestion.

So, want to stay alert and not feel drowsy? Watch your intake and eat only as much as you need. After all, you can always have leftovers the next day (that’s the best part anyway!)

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