By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia
False. L-tryptophan can make a person feel sleepy, but it is not from eating turkey. University of Georgia extension specialists say that intense desire to nap after a holiday meal comes from all the calories people stuff in their stomachs during holiday dinners.
“You could even have the meal without the turkey and still have that drowsy effect,” said Kelly Bryant, a UGA Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.
The turkey gets a lot dumped on it this time of year. From gravy to cranberry sauce to mayonnaise on sandwiches, the bird has several toppings and one issue to deal with.
“It’s a common myth that the turkey is to blame for making you sleepy,” Bryant said.
The myth starts out with a strong base, because L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid, has a documented sleep-inducing effect.
L-tryptophan is used in the body to produce the B-vitamin, niacin. The body uses niacin to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that exerts a calming effect and regulates sleep. But L-tryptophan needs to be taken on an empty stomach and without any other amino acids or protein in order to make a person drowsy.
Also, L-tryptophan is found in almost any food that contains protein, like chicken and cheese, Bryant said.
It’s not just the holiday protein that’s causing the desire for post-dinner shuteye. That sleepy feeling can be blamed on several things.
“Potatoes, sweet potatoes, breads. The large quantity of starches is what causes you to feel sleepy,” Bryant said. “It’s a combination of several things, the type of food, the amount and the alcohol served.”
It takes a lot of energy to digest a large meal. Blood is pulled to the stomach from other parts of the body. This causes drowsiness, she said.
“On holidays, we tend to overeat,” Bryant said. “The average number of calories in a Thanksgiving meal can range depending on the meal.”
The average holiday meal, she said, contains between 2,000 to 3,000 calories, equal to or more than the amount of calories that most people need for a whole day.
Bryant offers several suggestions for balancing holiday meals:
• Have lower-calorie foods for breakfast and dinner. It’s about what you eat throughout the day.
• Eat balanced meals and include fresh vegetables with a balance of protein and carbohydrates.
• Limit portions and eat dessert in moderation.
• Eat slowly. It gives the stomach time to tell the brain that it’s full.
• After the meal, take a walk or do some type of activity with your family and friends.
But if you are unable to stick to these suggestions, Bryant says give in and just take a holiday nap.
(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)