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Thanksgiving MythBusters: Turkey Is Not What’s Making You Sleepy

Every year at Thanksgiving, most of us engage in the annual rite of passage of stuffing ourselves mercilessly with turkey, cranberry sauce, and pie. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday. But inevitably, in that hour between feeling so full you think you’ll explode and gearing up for round two with the leftovers, you find yourself ready to crash on the couch.

But, contrary to popular belief, eating turkey isn’t the main reason you feel sleepy after a Thanksgiving feast. The common turkey myth stems from the fact that turkey contains the amino acid L-tryptophan, which forms the basis of brain chemicals including serotonin.  Serotonin plays a large role your mood and can help create a feeling of well-being, relaxation and sleepiness. However, L-tryptophan is also found in other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs. And it turns out that turkey may actually contain less L-tryptophan than chicken.

So, if the L-tryptophan in the turkey isn’t making us sluggish and tired, what is?  Experts agree that it’s actually caused by overeating and consuming large amounts of carbohydrates and alcohol which may be the real cause of a post-Thanksgiving-meal snooze. When people overeat food, the digestion process takes a lot of energy.  And don’t forget that the holidays generally mean time off from work and with family so you may be feeling more relaxed to begin with. Couple that with hours of preparing the meal, cheering on football, relaxing in front of the TV, overeating, and drinking alcohol and there’s no question why you’re tired at the end of the meal and ready for the deepest sleep of the year.