In the United States, Thanksgiving Day originated as an opportunity to give thanks for blessing of the harvest and to toast to a plentiful harvest the next year. Fitting with its origins, the modern Thanksgiving holiday is centered on food. Although we are grateful for this day of eating, why does it have to make us so sleepy?
L-tryptophan, commonly known as just tryptophan, is an amino acid found in many of the foods typically found at a Thanksgiving feast. You’ve probably heard one of your relatives cite it as the reason they fell asleep during the football game. Tryptophan is essential for the normal growth in infants and to balance nitrogen levels in adults. It is mostly found in proteins like turkey, chicken, dairy products and brown rice. Once the amino acid is consumed, the body converts it to 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP), which is then turned into serotonin. Serotonin is the biochemical messenger that is associated with naps.
But tryptophan can’t do it alone. Tryptophan is not an essential amino acid, and it has to compete to get to the brain. Most of the time it gets kicked out of the way by other essential amino acids also traveling to the brain. So, why does it zip up to the brain on Thanksgiving? Carbohydrates.
That’s right… stuffing, potato casserole, yams, and of course grandma’s yummy pies. The consumption of carbohydrates removes other amino acids from the blood allowing tryptophan to enter the brain and boosts your levels of serotonin.
Don’t blame the poor turkey when you wind up dozing on the couch. Blame the mass amounts of carbs you eat. The combination of carbs and turkey in the quantity associated with holiday eating means you probably need a nap or two to make it through the day. How does one go about staying awake to enjoy a tasty piece of apple or pumpkin pie?
If you want to fight the nap, don’t take huge servings of your favorite dishes. If this isn’t your first rodeo, which I’m guessing it isn’t, take some of everything in smaller portions. You don’t have to have the world’s largest piece of pie. Just take a sliver.
For the rest of you, let’s unite and accept that we’re going to need a nap. People didn’t work for hours in the kitchen, making all of our favorite dishes for us to limit ourselves. Think about this way. If you take a nap, you can always wake up later and grab another piece of pie. It’s a day to eat a lot with the people you care about the most and not think about the stressors in your life. Most importantly, tell the people around you how thankful you are to have them as a part of your life.
Want to learn more about the Thanksgiving Dinner-induced somnolence? Try these links: