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Does Eating Turkey Really Make You Sleepy?

People say eating turkey makes you tired, but is this fact or fiction? An expert breaks down the truth.

Thanksgiving is here, and although some people opt for ham or other forms of holiday meat, many people are gearing up to feast on a tender Thanksgiving turkey. If you're someone who eats turkey during the holidays, chances are you've heard once or twice that turkey can leave you feeling sleepy after you eat it. Or perhaps you've experienced post-Thanksgiving meal sleepiness yourself. But how much truth is there to this claim? Can eating turkey really make you sleepy?

To get down to the bottom of this, we spoke with registered dietitian Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, the author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board. Here's what she had to say regarding this belief—and for more expert insight courtesy of Amy Goodson, be sure to also check out Why a Dietitian Says You Don't Have to Avoid Dairy Milk.

Can eating turkey actually make you sleepy?

thanksgiving turkey

According to Goodson, this claim is more of a myth than a reality. However, to better understand why that is, it's important to first look at the science behind the overall concept of turkey triggering sleepiness.

"Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps promote good sleep and a good mood," says Goodson. "Tryptophan is involved in the production of serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood, and melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. That is how turkey got its association to making you feel sleepy on Thanksgiving."

In fact, research shows that tryptophan may be able to help with circadian rhythm and immune function. However, Goodson explains why turkey's tryptophan levels are most likely not high enough to actually make you feel sleepier.

"Just to put it in perspective, a three-ounce serving of turkey contains approximately 250–310 mg of tryptophan, whereas a typical tryptophan supplement to help with sleep would provide you with anywhere from 1,000-5,000 milligrams," says Goodson. "So, you would need to eat way too many servings of turkey to get you there—which is probably not likely."

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The real reason you may feel tired after eating Thanksgiving dinner

It's absolutely normal to feel a bit sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal—or any big feast for that matter. But Goodson emphasizes that the fact that this would be due to turkey alone is highly unlikely. Rather, it's more plausible that your sleepiness stems from all of the food you're eating across the board on Thanksgiving day.

"Consider all of the carbohydrates and desserts you are consuming, because large amounts of carbohydrates can cause an increase in blood sugar—and what goes up must come down.  [In other words,] this means that the hours after your big meal, you might feel a little sleepy," says Goodson.

What you consume isn't the only factor that can play into your level of exhaustion after eating Thanksgiving dinner. The amount of food you consume on turkey day may also make a difference in how tired you feel post-meal.

"Considering that most people eat a little more at Thanksgiving dinner, more blood flow is directed to your digestive tract than your brain in the hours after you eat, which can also contribute to feeling tired," Goodson says.

At the end of the day, there's no shame in feeling tired and a bit lazy after a heavy Thanksgiving feast. In fact, that's what lying around watching football or movies with your family is for. But rather than blame all of the sleepiness on turkey, keep in mind that it is more likely coming from eating a large meal in general.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha