Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?

(Last Updated On: April 30, 2019)

Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?

If you’ve ever celebrated Thanksgiving, you’re probably familiar with that bloated and tired feeling after everything’s been said and done. After eating a giant bird, some ham, and then mashed potatoes coated in gravy, can you really blame people for wanting some rest? To some, the post-turkey nap is part of the Thanksgiving experience. But why does turkey make you tired in the first place?

Here we should probably pump the breaks a little. Our question implies that turkey does in fact make you tired. Is that really the case?

At first glance, the idea of turkey making you tired does have some scientific grounds to stand on. Many point to the amino acid L-tryptophan as the culprit for your thanksgiving tiredness. Let’s all be fair, with a phrase like “amino acid L-tryptophan,” a lot of people would probably be inclined to just accept that as fact. But should they? Let’s break things down.

What Is L-tryptophan?

There have to be some teeth to the whole “turkey and L-tryptophan make you tired” idea for it to be held for so long. So what does L-tryptophan even do?

As we mentioned earlier, L-tryptophan is an amino acid. It helps the brain make neurotransmitters. Very simply put, neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow information to get around through the body.

Brain chemistry is finicky, but we can hazard that L-tryptophan and serotonin are linked. If you’re versed in your neurotransmitters (nobody’s expecting you to stop flexing), serotonin is the one typically linked to feelings of well-being and happiness.

How Is L-tryptophan Used?

Serotonin is also related to regulating one’s sleep (as well as mood). Some people take L-tryptophan supplements to sleep or even help with mood swings. The whole mood swing thing is widespread enough for some women to take L-tryptophan for premenstrual syndrome.

But before you go run off to your doctor and ask for L-tryptophan supplements because you couldn’t sleep last night, there is one other thing we should mention. A lot of the claims regarding L-tryptophan as a sleep aid or mood stabilizer don’t have as much research behind them. In fact, most doctors would probably recommend alternative medicines or supplements to deal with those issues. L-tryptophan just doesn’t have the science to back it up.

Where Can You Find L-tryptophan?

Let’s bring everything back full circle, where is this chemical that maybe makes you sleepy found?

Well it’s in turkey, for one. But also the following (including, but not limited to):

  • Bananas
  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Oats
  • Nuts

Does Turkey Make You Tired?

So to answer the original question; no. Turkey shouldn’t make you any more tired than most other foods, or at least any more tired than having a few bananas or an equal amount of chicken.

More likely than not, it’s Thanksgiving itself that makes you tired, and not turkey. You’re probably bloated from eating way too much, and most people want to take naps after eating large amounts anyway. There’s also the aspect of being around a lot of people, which can be emotionally exhausting for some.

So next time you need to flop into bed after your Thanksgiving dinner, blame Aunt Karen and her insistence on talking politics instead of the bird sitting in your stomach.

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About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.