Bringing the art of neuroscience and psychology to life.

On Turkey Coma…

It’s that time of year again… of family, friends, endless Christmas music and overeating.

And this week is Thanksgiving.  A special time when we get together to gorge on foods like turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. And it’s a time when someone at your Thanksgiving dinner table with no background in neuroscience will no doubt be explaining to you how some sort of trypto something or other in turkey makes you fall asleep.

Diagnosis: Turkey Coma


So what exactly is going on here?

Turkey gets a bad rap for causing the sleepiness following Thanksgiving dinner.  But is this true? Is the turkey really to blame? And what’s this trypto something or other?

Turkey does contains L-tryptophan. And L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid and has a long and published history of inducing sleep. It’s used in the body to produce niacin and can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that have a calming effect and regulate sleep, among other actions like altering mood, etc.

BUT… L-tryptophan needs to be taken on an empty stomach and without any other amino acids or proteins in order to make you lay like broccoli on the couch. There’s lots of other protein in a turkey and you are probably also eating mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy and pie… lots of pie. Yum.

And actually, turkey doesn’t even have that high of an L-tryptophan content in comparison to other foods… like chicken even.

So why are you so sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner? Let’s go back to an earlier statement of mine…

“…and you are probably also eating mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy and pie… lots of pie. Yum.”

It takes a lot of energy to digest a large meal. Eating generally leads to a slight increase in body temperature, as your metabolic rate increases in order to allow the digestion of food. Your temperature may increase by as many as 2 degrees F as the chemical reactions of the digestive process take place within your body. These chemical reactions are what produces the heat that causes a slight augmentation in body temperature.  Also, when your stomach is full, blood is directed away from other organ systems, including your nervous system. The result? You will feel sleepy after any big meal whether it contains turkey or not, particularly if it is high in fats and carbohydrates as Thanksgiving dinner tends to be.

So pardon the turkey this Thanksgiving.  It’s not his fault you fell asleep and missed the Patriots vs the Jets after dinner.

2 comments on “On Turkey Coma…

  1. Pingback: Giving Thanks in Warsaw - Free to Maneuver

  2. Pingback: Food And Love: How They Are Linked In The Brain « Nerdoscientist

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