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Feeling tired on Thanksgiving? Don't blame it on the turkey

While tryptophan is real, there are several factors that add to your post-meal sleepiness.

TAMPA, Fla. — Every Thanksgiving you likely pile your favorites like turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole onto your plate before chowing down. 

An hour or so later, the regret hits for not wearing your stretchy pants and you're starting to feel a little sleepy. You think, dang it, that turkey got me again. But did it?

Yes, there's no denying that turkey does contain tryptophan — the amino acid your uncle or dad always likes to blame the Thanksgiving feeling of needing a nap on.

It turns out though, there are only 250 to 310 milligrams of tryptophan in a three-ounce serving of turkey, which according to Orlando Health is a little less than you'd find in the same amount of chicken. 

While tryptophan does travel in the blood from the digestive system to your brain, causing serotonin, aka what calms you and helps you sleep, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital says it's not enough. 

"Most scientists think that there's a different reason why eating a special meal might make you drowsy. Eating a big Thanksgiving dinner causes increased blood flow to the stomach (needed to help digest the meal) and less blood flow to the brain," its website reads.

Plus, tryptophan is also in foods like fish, nuts, and beans. So, unless you're finding yourself needing a nap after eating all of those foods, there are other factors at play that make you want to curl up on the couch during the holiday.

According to Orlando Health, the influx of carbs your body takes in while eating a Thanksgiving feast causes your insulin to drop and in return makes you feel tired. 

"If we’re filling our plate to the brim with carbs — as we tend to do at Thanksgiving, that drowsy feeling only grows as the blood rushes to the digestive system, and breaking down the food takes priority over staying awake and alert," its website reads.

Mix that with the stress of the holiday, shopping, cooking and, for some, adding in alcohol, you're bound to have the perfect situation for a nap.

But fear not, there are several ways to battle post-meal sleepiness according to both hospital systems: 

  • Eat small and healthy meals during the day. The feast shouldn't be the first time you eat on Thanksgiving.
  • Put small portions on your plate and then go back for more if you're not full.
  • Eat slowly and take breaks to gauge how full you are.
  • Stop eating once you are full/there are always leftovers.
  • Take a walk after you eat.

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