On Thursday afternoon across Oklahoma City, the state and the U.S., a wave of drowsiness will descend. While it’s tradition these days to blame turkey for the inevitable Thanksgiving nap, OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., said there’s more to it.
“Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, but it’s one the human body can’t make. So we get it from foods and supplements,” he said. “One of the roles tryptophan plays is in making serotonin, which makes us feel relaxed.”
Tryptophan is found in turkey, but it’s found in plenty of other foods, too. Chicken has a higher concentration of the amino acid and tuna is about the same as turkey. But those foods rarely get blamed for our need to nod off when we leave the table.
That’s because it takes a combination of factors to make us to snore away the day, Prescott said. A warm house. Exhaustion from trying to get everything ready. And, most notably, carbs.
“The turkey coma is just a myth,” said Prescott. “Indulging in carbohydrate-rich foods like mashed potatoes and stuffing jump-starts a chain reaction that ends with the creation of the sleep-causing chemical melatonin in the brain.”
Over-eating is also a factor, he said. When we eat too much, the pancreas pumps up insulin production to process the excess sugar and remove it from the bloodstream and it doesn’t stop until the brain senses that blood sugar levels are normal. But by the time the brain stops insulin production, often too much sugar is removed. And low blood sugar can make you feel tired, dizzy and nauseous.
So if you want to stay awake for afternoon football, consider breaking with Thanksgiving tradition and practicing restraint.
“You’ll be more alert and you won’t feel so sluggish,” he said. “If your family is anything like mine, there’ll be leftovers enough to enjoy for the next few days. Though the pumpkin pie is usually gone before the day is through.”