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Does Turkey Really Make You Sleepy?

November 15, 2023 | Reading Time: 2 minutes
Man sleeping in chair

Picture this: It’s Thanksgiving, you’ve just eaten a big meal and you’re ready to settle in for a nap. While you may be quick to blame the turkey for your drowsiness, don’t throw the bird under the bus just yet.

We asked Juliana Wright, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Huntsville Hospital Wellness Center, if the rumors about turkey causing sleepiness are true. While turkey does contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that our bodies use to make the sleep-regulating chemicals serotonin and melatonin, it’s not the sole reason we fall into a “food coma” after stuffing ourselves with holiday favorites.

“High-carbohydrate Thanksgiving dishes like dressing, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie can cause a spike in blood sugar then a sudden drop in blood sugar, leaving us feeling tired,” she said. “A big meal also sends a rush of blood to your stomach to help with digestion, so less blood is available in the brain to keep you awake.”

So, what can you do to prevent the post-turkey hangover?

Eat balanced meals and watch the portion sizes

To avoid feeling tired and overly full this Thanksgiving, keep your portions small and balance your plate with protein and carbs. This can be accomplished by fixing your plate like this; 1/4 protein-rich foods, 1/4 carbohydrates and starches, and 1/2 non-starchy vegetables like green beans, broccoli or a salad. Your energy levels will thank you later!

Cut back on alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant, affecting your central nervous system and making you sleepier than usual. Combined with a rich Thanksgiving meal, you may find yourself ready for that nap sooner. Alcohol consumption is best limited and or avoided to feel your best throughout the season.

Stay rested

It’s easy to get off your usual routine around the holidays. Make healthy sleep a priority by maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting at least seven hours of sleep each night and practicing good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding electronics before bed to reduce distractions.

Get active

Light exercise and even walking not only help you maintain a healthy weight, but they also allow you to digest your food faster and give you more energy. This Thanksgiving, grab a family member or friend and take a stroll around the neighborhood. You’ll feel better and make memories that last a lifetime!

Who said you can’t get started on your New Year’s resolutions a little early? Find an HH Health wellness center near you to begin meeting your health and fitness goals today.