What Causes that Sleepy Feeling on Thanksgiving?
Many people are aware, at least to some degree, that the food they eat does have an impact on how they feel physically. How many times have you heard someone say they want to take a nap after eating a lunch of penne a la vodka with a side of buttered bread? Sure, heavy meals of refined carbohydrates are sure to spike one's glucose levels which is the first reaction in a chain of bodily functions. The feeling of drowsiness and decreased wakefulness are basically your body's way of saying it needs to slow down on chowing down and focus on digesting (read: sleepy time), rather than continue on the quest for more delicious food.
As food and energy consumption increases, so too does the amount of insulin released as a normal part of the body's digestion. The insulin, in turn, increases the amount of seratonin and melatonin that flood the brain, two chemicals associated with drowsiness.
But I thought it was the turkey's fault...?
As the holidays are rolling around, you'll be sure to hear a friend or family member say that eating turkey makes you sleepy. Here's where this frequently repeated idea comes from: Turkey, and other foods such as cheddar cheese, contain an amino acid called tryptophan; amino acids are natural substances used in every cell of your body to build the proteins you need to survive. Different amino acids are used by your body for different functions, and tryptophan is taken through a multi-step process to be converted into serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate sleep.
But nutritionists and other experts say that the tryptophan in turkey probably won't trigger the body to produce more serotonin because tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. The tryptophan in a Thanksgiving turkey has to vie with all the other amino acids that the body is trying to use. So only part of the tryptophan makes it to the brain to help produce serotonin. (source: http://science.howstuffworks.com/)
Additionally, other meats and foods such as ham and cheddar cheese also contain typtophan, but your turkey gets the bad rap because it is usually consumed in such a large meal!
What's the real culprit behind wanting to zonk out on the couch after Thanksgiving meal? The average Thanksgiving meal is 3000 calories, much of which is from very rich foods. Marshmellow-topped sweet potatoes, pies, breads, stuffings, and let's not forget the candy-like cranberry sauce. Often accompanied by a glass of wine or other alcohols, this huge meal will produce the familiar 'sedative-effect'.
While Thanksgiving comes but once a year, maybe the best solution is to eat your favorite dishes in smaller quantities and stop eating before your reach the point of uncomfortable over-satiation.