Modern Mythology: So Stuffed You’re Sleepy
I love me a good Christmas afternoon nap. We don’t eat turkey much in the festive season around my parts, but it is still there, and there is a very pervasive myth around that turkey makes you sleepy.
I think one of the reasons this myth is so common is because it makes so much sense. Most people do feel very sleepy after Christmas dinner, and (at least in the US) Christmas dinner often involves turkey. Turkey also contains tryptophan, one of the amino acids the body needs to synthesise proteins. In particular it is involved in a multi-step process to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate sleep. However, tryptophan doesn’t act on the brain unless the stomach is empty and no protein is present. Also, lots of foods (especially meat) contain Tryptophan, and they aren’t generally credited with sleepiness in the same way that turkey is.
So what is it that really makes you sleepy? Fats, for one thing. Especially if you’ve been overeating, your body needs a lot of energy to digest a large meal. This increased metabolic rate can contribute to sleepiness. Alcohol (if you’re drinking) is also a central nervous system depressant, so that makes you feel sleepy as well.
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