Does Thanksgiving turkey actually make you sleepy?

Turkey makes you tired: Is this fact or fiction?

Does turkey make you tired? sleep & wellness tips
(Image credit: Ekaterina Bolovtsova / Pexels)

With Thanksgiving coming up, we’re sure you’re looking forward to overindulging on food and drink, particularly the star of the show… the roast turkey.  After consuming your Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, turkey is always to blame when you’re excessively yawning or you’ve just fallen asleep on the best mattress for a quick nap. 

Year on year, we hear the same thing about turkey making you sleepy – but is this true or is it just an old wives tale? The quick answer to whether turkey makes you tired or not is… yes and no.

Before you start pointing fingers at the turkey again after you’ve fallen asleep after lunch, let’s quickly look into why turkey has garnered this reputation. First, turkey is a source of protein, and according to EatingWell, an overconsumption of protein can make you feel tired as it puts too much strain on your kidneys and liver by making them work overtime to break down your food.

But, the main reason people think turkey promotes tiredness is because it contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which acts as a natural sleep aid by increasing the production of melatonin and serotonin.

These two hormones regulate your mood, sleep cycle, appetite and pain levels, so if you’ve got more melatonin or serotonin in your body, you’re more likely to feel sleepy or in a happier mood. Therefore, it’s a possibility that after eating turkey, the tryptophan within it can cause you to feel a little sleepy.

Foods to eat before bed

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However, research by Healthline states that two servings of turkey contain only about 410 milligrams of tryptophan. In comparison, tryptophan supplements that people use before bed to improve their sleep, take a dose of around 5 grams of tryptophan, meaning you’d have to eat 20 servings of turkey to equal that dosage. So, while you might feel tired after eating turkey, chances are you haven’t actually eaten that much for the tryptophan to actually have an effect on you.

Other than turkey, tryptophan (which humans don’t naturally produce, says Sleep Foundation) is in a variety of foods, including chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs and legumes. Depending on your diet, you’re probably consuming many of these foods everyday, yet you don’t blame your cheese sandwich when you’re feeling tired!

Sleep can be affected by lots of things that you do throughout the day, including exercise and diet. While there are foods that will make you nod off easier at night (see 8 foods for a good night’s sleep & 4 to avoid for more), it might be the amount of food that you’re eating which impacts your feelings of sleepiness. For example, on Thanksgiving or Christmas, many people eat an excessive amount of food, particularly carbohydrates.

Carbs (which are a delicious staple at most festive lunches) cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. In combination with feeling full, this spike can result in a crash later on, which makes you feel tired and less alert. If you’ve also been drinking alcohol with your Thanksgiving meal, this will make you feel fatigued and more likely to indulge in an afternoon nap.

The moral of this story is… don’t blame the turkey if you’re tired this Thanksgiving! Chances are, you’re just full, and as Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays, you might as well take the perfect nap before the craziness of the best Black Friday deals begin…

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Home Editor

Beth is Home Editor for T3, looking after style, living and wellness. From the comfiest mattresses to what strange things you can cook in an air fryer, Beth covers sleep, yoga, smart home, coffee machines, grooming tools, fragrances, gardening and much more. If it's something that goes in your house, chances are Beth knows about it and has the latest reviews and recommendations! She's also in the know about the latest deals and discount codes from top brands and retailers.

Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory, TechRadar, CreativeBloq and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting craft projects that will probably end in disaster!