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Turkey, Thanksgiving And Sleep

Dr. Stuart Lehrman, Pulmonologist and Director of the Sleep Center at Westchester Medical Center, says several factors contribute to drowsiness on Thanksgiving Day.
Dr. Stuart Lehrman, Pulmonologist and Director of the Sleep Center at Westchester Medical Center, says several factors contribute to drowsiness on Thanksgiving Day. Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Turkey is often blamed for the after dinner lethargic feeling we may experience at our Thanksgiving dinner.

However, the truth of the matter is that you could skip the beloved, tender and juicy great American national bird all together and still feel the lingering effects of the annual celebratory feast of the harvest.

Alcohol and overeating, two very common factors often found in Thanksgiving Day sleep induced post turkey consumption are most probably more often than not the real issue.

While turkey contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid with documented sleep inducing properties, it needs to be taken on an empty stomach and without any other amino acids or protein in order to make you feel drowsy. There's lots of protein in a serving of turkey and it's probably not the only food on the table.

If alcohol is part of the mix, there is almost sure to be an increase in the after dinner naps.  As for the overeating part -- well, it takes a huge amount of energy to digest any large meal, whether it includes turkey or not.

“When your stomach is full, the body shunts blood away from other body organs including the central nervous system to aid in the digestion process,” said Dr. Stuart Lehrman, Pulmonologist and Director of the Sleep Center at Westchester Medical Center.  “The result is an incredible desire to retire to the couch immediately and nap, especially if your meal was rich in fats and carbohydrates.”

It's also interesting to note that tryptophan competes with all of the body's other amino acids to enter the brain and that many other foods contain just as much or more tryptophan than turkey which has about a 1/3g of tryptophan per 100 grams.  Some of these foods include chicken, pork and cheese.  However, a cheese sandwich doesn’t seem to make you sleepy.

So it is often really the overeating of carbohydrates like the stuffing, mashed potatoes, crackers, cookies, cakes and yams that are the real culprit here.  Most medical experts would agree any big meal containing tryptophan combined with lots of carbohydrates might trigger sleepiness — not just turkey. Dr. Lehrman adds, “And of course on Thanksgiving, there are many other factors that can contribute to feelings of tiredness like long road trips and alcohol consumption.”

For most people sleepiness is not just caused by overeating.  Nearly 1 in 10 people will experience a sleep disorder in their lifetime with the majority going undiagnosed.  The Sleep Center at Westchester Medical Center is a full-service, state-of-the-art laboratory equipped to treat a wide range of sleep disorders in both adults and children. To learn more visit: http://www.westchestermedicalcenter.org/SleepCenter

Daily Voice produced this article as part of a paid Content Partnership with our advertiser, Westchester Medical Center

We are highly selective with our Content Partners, and only share stories that we believe are truly valuable to the communities we serve.

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