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The Real Causes of the Thanksgiving Sleepies

Every year, I promise myself I’m not going to get eat myself into a food coma: I’ll eat responsibly, front load my belly with salad and go light on the turkey and gravy. Instead, I wake up three hours after Thanksgiving dinner, sprawled out like Robinson Crusoe on the living room floor under a pile of my nephews’ toys. My shirt is covered in light brown stains and greasy hand prints smear my jeans. What is it about Thanksgiving that sends me—and millions of other Americans—into digestive oblivion? Are we all blissed out on turkey, or is there another reason Thanksgiving is the holiday for slothiness? You’ve probably heard that turkey meat is dripping with a sleep-inducing chemical called tryptophan. And while it’s true the stuff plays a part in sending your brain into slumber, saying it does so single-handedly is like saying Neil Armstrong jumped to the moon all by himself. For one thing, turkey isn’t particularly laden with tryptophan. Ounce for ounce, a roast chicken, grilled steak, or rack of pork spareribs all have comparable amounts. Freeze-dried tofu has about double the amount of tryptophan as turkey, and I doubt you’ll hear your cousin from southern California complain about how sleepy he is after gorging on faux-meat. Carbs are the real culprits behind the Thanksgiving sleepies. Cast your heavy-lidded gaze over to the side dishes. Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pie, are carb-rich and load your bloodstream with glucose, a sugar. In order to regulate the amount of glucose that makes its way into your muscles, your body releases insulin, which commandeers a bunch of amino acids to help with the job. Tryptophan is also an amino acid, but not useful for glucose regulation. Instead, it’s mostly used by the body to make mood-regulation hormones. Normally, tryptophan has limited access to your brain, as its blocked by other amino acids. However, when they get called away to help regulate glucose, tryptophan is in the clear. In the brain, it gets converted into serotonin, and then melotonin—known to cause drowsiness. More via WIRED.

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