Thanksgiving Turkey: A Common Misconception

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As the Thanksgiving Holiday winds down and we all return to our studies, you can't help but think about the delicious food that you consumed over break.  In particular, the masterfully carved Thanksgiving turkey that sat at the middle of it all.  We have been hearing it for years from relatives, "blame the turkey for your drowsiness."  However, this past Thanksgiving holiday and this class prompted me to look into the idea that Turkey causes a person to be drowsy.  What I found may make people rethink their conception of Thanksgiving turkey. 

An article published by WebMD dove into the scientific implications behind the popular Thanksgiving bird.  The article shows that it is not the turkey on its own that causes people to be drowsy; there are many other variables that go into the post-dinner nap.  The common conception is that turkey contains the Amino Acid Tryptophan which in turn makes people drowsy.  However, that is simply not the case.  The Amino Acid is found in many other food groups including milk, fish, cheese, etc. and helps with the digestion of food in the body.  The digestion of food in the body takes a lot of energy and is a very vital bodily function.  Tryptophan is also responsible for the regulation of serotonin which helps control sleep cycles.  This is another reason that people often think that Turkey makes them drowsy.  However, the Tryptophan does no kick in and start to regulate serotonin unless it is boosted by a high carbohydrate substance.  So, there are many other food groups that help influence the effects of serotonin.  For instance, the three servings of mashed potatoes that many people consume every Thanksgiving may help induce the serotonin.  In addition, often times more than one plate is consumed which causes the body to exert more energy towards digestion.  The more energy spent on digestion also helps in creating the feeling of drowsiness.


Another good point that the article established is that people are working very hard prior to Thanksgiving Day.  Whether it is traveling, decorating, or preparing food, people often sacrifice their sleep schedules in order to create a good holiday experience. Joyce Walsleban, PhD, associate professor at New York University's Sleep Disorders Center states, "coming up on the holidays and trying to get all the things done that one would normally be doing, you short cut your sleep and that's never helpful. By the time the holiday comes, everyone has gotten sick."  This just goes to show that there are often many other variables that must be considered before making a conclusion.


I now have a better explanation as to why I was falling asleep at the dinner table following our Thanksgiving meal.  Instead of blaming it on the turkey alone, I will now consider the other multitude of food items that I consume.  The misconception that turkey causes people to be drowsy is now explained through common third variables that people may not consider when making a conclusion.



1 Comment

I've had a lot of people argue this with me because it such a popular myth people have learned. I think it'd be interesting if they could run a study with people who only ate turkey versus people who ate the entire thanksgiving meal and see the outcomes of their tiredness. A lot of other factors could go into this as well like being busy (what you said), prior lack of sleep, overeating, etc. There's too many things that can attribute to this tiredness for people to be blaming it all on the turkey!

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