Feeling sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal? Don’t blame it all on the turkey.
Like all protein-containing foods, turkey is made up of amino acids. The amino acid of particular interest in turkey is called tryptophan. Tryptophan is a component of serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed. Serotonin is also used to make the sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin.
As we digest foods containing protein, the amino acids enter the bloodstream and make their way over to the brain. The problem is that tryptophan is a big, bulky amino acid. So it has to compete with other amino acids to get into the brain. Imagine this as a long lineup of people waiting to get into a concert.
Enter carbs. The carbs you eat from the stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and other typical Thanksgiving fare stuffing actually triggers the release of insulin. This action removes most of the amino acids from our bloodstream, but not the tryptophan. It’s as if all of the people in line for that concert have been pulled away, except for tryptophan. This of course makes it easier for tryptophan to enter the brain and start it’s effect on serotonin and melatonin to create that sleepy effect.
So if you’d like to avoid the ZZZ’s after your Thanksgiving meal, try to ease up on the servings of carbs on your dinner plate. It doesn’t hurt to go easy on the alcohol too. Otherwise, grab a pillow for a Thanksgiving ticket to nap land!