Turkey feast= food coma?


My mother stays awake late every night on the computer checking her e-mails and such. My brother stays awake late every night watching movies. My grandma even usually stays up late most nights lounging around the house peeking in everyone else's room to see what they are doing. But last night, on Thanksgiving, everyone was sound asleep shortly after our feasting was done. It was pretty early for our house, must have been about 10 PM or so. One would think that everyone goes to sleep early because people eat so much that they go into a "food coma" (when one passes out into a deep sleep because they are so full.) It makes sense. I am sure plenty of you have experienced these! But what about the plenty of overweight Americans who eat in this quantity on a daily basis? Do they go into food comas every day? Or is there something in particular about a Thanksgiving feast that puts one to sleep?



Apparently, there is...and it is the main dish of Thanksgiving. The turkey! Turkey supposedly contains a nutrient called Tryptophan, which is one of the twenty naturally occurring amino acids that assist in creating proteins for our body. This amino acid is essential to the body, but our bodies cannot naturally produce it by ourselves, so we must obtain it from outside sources, such as the food we eat. According to Scientific American, "Tryptophan is used by the human body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter." If any of you remember as I do from psychology class that you may have taken in high school or at Penn State, neurotransmitters are chemicals in your body that tell your brain when you are tired. Therefore, it is a widely common thought that turkey makes you tired.

However, turkey is not the only food that contains this natural protein. According to Live Strong, meats, fishes, nuts, vegetables and beans all contain tryptophan. But, each of these foods contains different levels; turkey happens to be the meat with the highest level. Finding out this information confused me because wouldn't that technically mean that after every time we eat foods with these ingredients, we should become tired?

Reading on confused me even more. Apparently, there are several types of amino acids, and tryptophan is the least common among them. When you intake food, several amino acids enter your body, and they all enter your bloodstream, trying to fight for who can reach the brain first. Tryptophan is the one that usually has the least success.



 Therefore, the body would never intake this protein by itself, so the protein could not have a direct effect on the serotonin in your body. A lot of this information is conflicting, which leads me to question whether it really is the turkey that makes people tired. Or could it just be the food coma that I was discussing earlier?

After doing some further research, Web MD gave me the same facts that I doubted from this myth. It would not make sense for turkey to be the sole case of our tiredness if all these other foods also contain this ingredient. It is the carbs that make you tired! Thanksgiving is full of carbs: bread, cornbread, stuffing, potatoes, pies, etc! So it makes sense that after eating all this, people are bound to feel tired. Thanksgiving is the one holiday a year that is based on food.

I can imagine though that an experiment would be able to be conducted to find this out. If the tryptophan was isolated from everything around it and then given to someone who test if it makes them tired. Apparently, in the 1980's, this was tested when tryptophan became the new sleeping pill, according to Live Science.  The supplements were sold in wide quantities, but shortly the FDA discontinued their sale "after a massive outbreak of an autoimmune disease called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome." People died, and this was linked back to the manufacturer that they were made in. However, scientists still believe otherwise; that the pill itself was having an effect on these people. This is another instance other than what we learned in class of when doctors and scientists have been wrong, resulting in the loss of people's lives.

Well, guess that was not the best experiment. Another experiment would be for scientists to test vegetarians vs. non-vegetarians during Thanksgiving. The two groups could be asked to go to bed by a certain time and wake up at a certain time every day for one week, so they contain the same energy levels. Then on Thanksgiving, it would be documented at what time each of the participants started feeling tired, and at what time they actually went to bed. This data would reveal whether the turkey had an effect on the tiredness of the non-vegetarians. There are confounding third variables, but then again there are in many published studies. Some third variables include what else the participants ate during that day, their caffeine intake, their normal energy levels, etc. Everyone in the groups would need to be of the same age groups because younger people have more energy than older people. Are any of you vegetarian? Did you feel tired after you ate? Were there others around you who ate turkey and wanted to sleep right after? Did they have a lot of other food on their plate? 

So ladies and gentleman, the myth that you have been told for years has finally been debunked.


I thought this was interesting because I just watched a MythBusters episode about this very topic. They tested people's reactions time when they took a tryptophan pill vs their reactions when they had a large Thanksgiving meal with turkey. They found that the tryptophan definitely has an effect on people's reaction speeds but that was not the culprit for the meal with turkey. The reason the participants got tired was mostly from a big intake of carbs and calories. In the article posted from Scientific America, a biologists states that stretching of the small intestine induces drowsiness after a large meal. I wonder if this is the bodies way to avoid danger. The bodies knows that a lot of blood is being concentrated on the stomach area, so reaction speed would be reduced. Maybe this is a survival method since the body is trying to get you to slow down so you don't hurt yourself. Would you agree?

Funny topic, as I was one of many in my family who were in the same state of mind last week! Upon research, I found out there is an actual term for this state of being: post-prandial somnolence. It is the state of drowsiness after a big meal, and I must admit that I experience it more than a normal person should. Basically, your body is not very energetic because of the amount of food you have eaten, and you are especially sleepy because of hormonal and neurochemical changes due to the rate of glucose entering your bloodstream. Additionally, I found that your turkey theory posted above has not been exactly proven true yet. The tryptophan quantities found in turkey are the same found in chicken, beef, and other meats, so it is not true that turkey makes you sleepier than other meats. However, food comas do exist, so beware!

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