The Real Reason Turkey Makes You So Tired

Of course, toiling away before a hot stove isn't many people's idea of a good time but it's often how the holiday magic happens. As family members and friends enjoy a blissful after-feast doze, that spirit of contentment and togetherness is felt by all.

For millions of Americans, the annual Thanksgiving celebrations mean just that, the three Fs: food, family, and falling into a state of happy drowsiness almost the second your plate is clean. This is a meal that's taken very, very seriously after all: the Calorie Control Council reports that 3,000 calories are often consumed in one holiday dinner. For Thanksgiving, turkey is the traditional dish, and it has a particular reputation for making eaters fall asleep almost instantaneously. Here's the reason for turkey's stuporous effect.

As Mental Floss reports, tryptophan is often cited as the reason why eating turkey makes people sleepy. This amino acid reportedly facilitates the body's production of serotonin, which, per the Hormone Health Network, is a hormone that encourages digestion and aids sleep. Turkey contains tryptophan, so it seems like an open and shut case: it's consumed in great quantities, then lulls everyone to a contended slumber. It's not as simple as that, though.

The turkey is just one thing that makes us tired during the holidays

According to Mental Floss, turkey isn't particularly rich in tryptophan, and it's more abundant in foods like cheese (relative to weight). It's also found in different meats, chocolate, and dairy items. These foods are also frequent components of the average waistband-troubling Thanksgiving meal. The true sleep-inducing power of turkey, then, seems to boil down to two factors: a lot of it is typically eaten, and it compounds the tryptophan found elsewhere in holiday feasts. Being the piece de resistance of many holiday dinners and the most prominent item on the plate, it's natural that everyone would consider the turkey the reason why their meal made them drowsy.

Healthline adds that the amount of tryptophan in turkey alone is unlikely to make anyone sleep. The average tryptophan supplement to aid with sleep reportedly contains more of the amino acid in one pill than around twenty portions of turkey.  There are other factors involved too, Healthline goes on: alcohol can also make a person sleepy, the cold, dark evenings, and the body's difficulty digesting lots of food all at once — blood is transferred to the digestive system, reducing that to the brain — does our alertness no favors either. 

Throw the stressful nature of the holidays combined with a carbohydrate-heavy holiday diet into the mix, and it's no surprise that we feel so tired after a turkey dinner. There's a lot more on our plates too, literally and figuratively, though.