Falling asleep after a big meal is an unmatched experience, but there’s something about doing it on Thanksgiving that really just hits home. And, usually, we all get an excuse: We ate a lot of turkey, and those suckers are chock full of tryptophan, aka the sleepy stuff. But does that theory actually hold up?
First of all, what is tryptophan? It’s an amino acid (little helpers for your body to use important proteins) that’s essential to maintain a healthy diet.
As family medicine physician David Cutler, MD explained it to Insider, amino acids exist to help our bodies produce things they can’t create themselves. In this case, tryptophan gets converted into serotonin, which then gets converted into melatonin (it also produces niacin, which is good for your metabolism); if you’re familiar with those two hormones, the former makes you sleepy while the latter makes you happy. Sounds like the perfect recipe for an amazing nap, right?
Well, it is -- but not until about five hours after consuming food containing tryptophan, since that’s how long it takes your body to produce the serotonin. Instead, the nap you crave after a big meal, particularly Thanksgiving dinner, is due to overeating, since your body is working overtime trying to process that giant meal.
Throw in a likely excess of carbs and abundance of alcohol and of course you’re going to fall into a deep sleep.
It’s also important to first note that tryptophan is found in a lot more foods than just turkey, and mostly things that you’d find yourself eating on a daily basis. Think: dairy, eggs, chicken, etc. And chicken actually contains more tryptophan than turkey, so if that were the case, you’d be falling over at your desk every time you had a chicken caesar salad for lunch (which, I assume, is not the case).
TL;DR: No one’s going to rash on you for taking a nap after Thanksgiving dinner, but don’t blame the turkey.