Does Turkey Make You Sleepy? What Really Makes You Tired

Does turkey make you sleepy? Carbohydrates and high proteins may be the real culprits behind Thanksgiving sleepiness.

By Monica Cull
Nov 16, 2023 8:00 PMMar 25, 2024 7:16 PM
(Credit: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)


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It happens year after year: You push back from the table, wipe the last few crumbs of pumpkin pie off your face, let out a sigh of contentment, and then you feel it: The sense of grogginess is taking over. As you try to stifle a yawn, one of your all-knowing relatives will chime in.

"That's from the turkey."

Does turkey really make you tired? While there is an amino acid in turkey that can make you feel sleepy, there are lots of other foods that can make you feel tired, too – some of which we also eat on Thanksgiving. If the scenario above sounds familiar, read on to find out what’s causing your sleepiness. 

Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?

It's long been thought that because turkey has the amino acid L-tryptophan, turkey is what makes you tired after eating your Thanksgiving meal. However, nutritionists and dietary scientists suggest otherwise. 

What Is in Turkey That Makes You Sleepy?

Now it’s true, L-tryptophan is an amino acid responsible for producing serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is a hormone that helps with our mood, typically making us feel happy and relaxed. It's also a key hormone in helping us sleep and in aiding with digestion. This is why it's widely believed that the L-tryptophan in turkey is what makes us feel so tired after Thanksgiving dinner. 

However, it’s more likely that the amino acids in turkey have the opposite effect, as the protein and other amino acids in the bird can actually inhibit L-tryptophan’s ability to produce serotonin. This would likely keep you awake instead of sending you into a Thanksgiving snooze.

Read More: Cooking a Turkey for Thanksgiving? Here's What To Do

What Foods Make You Sleepy?

So, if it’s not necessarily the turkey that makes you tired, what foods do? Well, there are plenty of your Thanksgiving favorites that can make you feel drowsy. Carbohydrates in particular – from bread, potatoes and pie, when eaten with high protein foods like turkey – can lead to you feeling sluggish and tired. 

Why Do I Get Tired After I Eat?

Well, the amino acids in the protein you've consumed have a job to do. They are in charge of helping to break down and digest the sugars in carbs, and that can take a lot of energy. Not to mention, your stomach is probably more full than usual, so your body sends excess blood to your stomach and digestive tract to aid in digestion, again leading to drowsiness. 

Read More: Turkey Trivia: 6 Fun Facts About Turkey

What Is It Called When You Get Tired After Eating?

Postprandial somnolence, commonly known as the "food coma," is a familiar experience of feeling sleepy after eating. In addition to a serotonin hormonal response, this phenomenon can be attributed to several factors.

Timing of Meals

The time of day when you eat can also influence how tired you feel afterward. Eating a large meal close to your body's natural downtime, like in the evening, might align with your circadian rhythm's natural inclination towards sleep.

Quantity of Food Consumed

The amount of food eaten plays a significant role. Larger meals require more energy for digestion, leading to increased blood flow to the digestive system and reduced blood flow elsewhere, including the brain, potentially causing feelings of fatigue.

Read More: How Your Circadian Rhythms Control Your Every Waking — and Sleeping — Moment

How To Stop Feeling Tired After Eating

Thanksgiving is a holiday to count your blessings and be grateful for what you have, but let's be honest: It's also for eating a ton of food. While there are numerous health benefits to most of the classic Thanksgiving favorites, eating way too much of them can leave you feeling blah. If feeling tired and sluggish bothers you on Thanksgiving day, then here are some ways to avoid it. 

  • Don't starve yourself before your big meal. This will make you eat too fast and too much. 

  • Try to eat smaller portions, especially on the high-carb foods. 

  • If the weather permits, get outside and go for a quick stroll to help your food settle and digest. This will make you feel a lot better. 

Thanksgiving is a day for eating. Now that you know it isn't necessarily the turkey that makes you tired, it’s up to you to decide how much you want to overindulge. Whatever your decision, make sure you enjoy yourself!

Read More: Interesting November Holidays That Are Rooted in Science

This article was originally published on Nov. 19, 2021 and has since been updated by the Discover staff.

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