So, why would we think that turkey makes us sleepy?

Pumpkin pie, from

Pumpkin pie, from Scrumptious and good for you! Pumpkin pie is loaded with a healthful phytonutrient called beta-carotene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just because after a heavy Thanksgiving dinner you want to take a nap?

Yep. That’s why.

So, is there any truth to it? Should we be eating a turkey sandwich whenever we have trouble going to sleep?

Nope. The science tells us that a chemical turkey has in abundance, tryptophan, makes serotonin which can cause drowsiness and is a precursor to melatonin, which may help you fall asleep as well as adjust to a new time zone.

But other proteins also have tryptophan, without the reputation for making you sleepy.

Chicken has 0.41 grams per serving, soybeans 0.39 grams per serving, compared to turkey’s and tuna’s 0.38 grams per serving. No one said you were going to get sleepy after eating a tuna fish sandwich.

What is it then, that makes you comfortably sleepy after a big Thanksgiving dinner?

Eating too much, for one.  You feel full and, literally, less blood is going to the brain, making you sleepy.

You are relaxed around friends and family, and this has the opposite effect of the flight-or-fight response to anxiety, helping your digestion and making you sleepy.

I rarely drink coffee, for instance, because I am naturally on edge. I don’t need coffee to help keep me energized.

By contrast, late at night, surrounded by friends and family, I am occasionally relaxed enough to enjoy a cup of espresso with lots of  sugar. This is what they call the parasympathetic nervous system at work.

Then, there’s the alcohol, if you’re so inclined.

But, really, it’s the desserts that do it.

Eating carbohydrates does increase serotonin in the brain.

Bring on the pumpkin pie!

Thanks to Don’t Swallow Your Gum and pediatricians Drs. Carroll and Vreeman for introducing this health-myth-busting topic.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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