Thanksgiving is the holiday when most of us stuff ourselves with turkey, cranberry sauce and pie, and then take a nap. It’s the nap that I’m wondering about here. Is it true that eating turkey induces sleep? Or is it simply eating too much of everything that brings on the z’s?
So I did some research and learned that turkey is loaded with an essential amino acid called L-tryptophan, which the human body needs to build proteins, but can’t make on it’s own. Foods rich in tryptophan also include other poultry, red meats, cheese, yogurt, fish and eggs.
Once L-tryptophan is consumed, the body uses it to make niacin, a B vitamin that is important for digestion, healthy skin and nerves, and for producing a remarkable brain chemical called serotonin, which plays a large role in determining one’s mood. Generally speaking, if you have the proper level of serotonin, you will have feelings of wellbeing and relaxation. That’s because serotonin produces melatonin, a hormone that affects your sleep and wake cycles.
But proteins like turkey, chicken and fish, which are high in L-tryptophan, require assistance from foods high in carbohydrates to affect serotonin levels. All it takes is a carbohydrate snack — no more than 30 grams — in combination with the L-tryptophan stored in your body from food you’ve already eaten to give you the biggest boost of serotonin.
Such a carbo-snack could be a couple of Fig Newton’s, or half of a whole-wheat bagel with honey drizzled over it, or a few cups of air-popped popcorn. Take it after you’ve eaten foods high in L-trytophan and right before bed and chances are you will feel relaxed and sleep better.
So if eating turkey isn’t exactly the same as popping a sleeping pill, why the sudden grogginess as soon as the holiday meal has ended? It’s probably because you ate too much. Overeating takes a whole lot of energy for your body to digest. Add that to the fact that you are away from the stress of work and enjoying yourself among family and friends, and you have an excellent recipe for a perfect snooze.