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The Why of Thanksgiving Naps

Updated on November 25, 2010

Why do I get so tired after Thanksgiving turkey?  That's a question many of us are asking tonight.  It's a question we've been asking for years.  The answer may be more simple than you think.  Or maybe not.


It's the Turkey's Fault!

This is one long-standing belief, and one that may not be too far off the mark.  Turkey is loaded with an amino acid called tryptophan.  Simply speaking, tryptophan produces (or breaks down into) a monoamine neurotransmitter called seratonin which is also known as the happiness hormone.  What does this mean?  Seratonin helps make us feel good.  We acquire it (by way of tryptophan) in the foods we eat and by exposure directly or indirectly to sunlight.  Foods highest in tryptophan include oats, flax seed, barley, butternuts, black walnuts and spinach, ranging in content from 254 mg to 398 mg of tryptophan or seratonin per 100 g of food.  Turkey comes in a lowly 250 mg.  We don't usually fall asleep after eating nuts or spinach so maybe it really isn't the turkey after all.  In addition, studies show that carbohydrate-rich meals raise seratonin levels, as long as all of our meals are not overly filled with carbs.  


The Carbs Made Me Do It

This argument holds more water than the turkey argument, for some people anyway.  Traditionally we eat a lot of carbs on Thanksgiving.  The table is loaded down with mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, rice and bread, stuffing and pies.  Not only are these foods rich with carbs, many of them are high in sugar as well.  

"But, Cris," you're saying, "carbs and sugar give you energy."  

Yes and no.  Sugar gives us a quick energy boost, long enough to feast and clear the table.  Carbs provide us with long-term energy, but we've just seen that meals rich in carbs can raise our seratonin levels, leaving us with a feeling of well-being.  An overload of carbs can also produce an insulin overload in our bloodstream which results in low blood sugar and makes us feel sleepy.  The solution?  There are two:  1) eat less carbs, more turkey and more vegetables, or 2) take that nap and deal with the sleepiness for one day.  Unless, of course, you're diabetic - then you should stick with #1 and just plan to be the one who's awake to do the dishes.


Or Maybe It's ....

The answer to the sleepy question may be nothing more than quantity.  We eat, and eat, and eat on Thanksgiving.  Some of us eat at two or three houses before the day is over.  Stuffing ourselves overfull any day of the year will make us tired and sleepy.  Why should Thanksgiving be any different?  Add to that the wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages... Plus, an intense day of cleaning, cooking and visiting friends and family... Plus the simple feeling of being relaxed because this is a holiday and for some a long weekend - well, no wonder we're sleepy after a Thanksgiving feast!  It's probably pretty natural.

So enjoy your feasts and your families.  Enjoy your naps and the long weekend.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving and have a wonderful day.


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