Stock photo. | Photo by Ryan McVay/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St George News
ST. GEORGE – The turkey is not to blame.
Depending on how much appetite someone has, or how many relatives and friends have brought more food for your Thanksgiving feast, there are usually a lot more things on the plate than Benjamin Franklin’s favorite bird.
But it’s always the turkey and its connection to that amino acid called L-tryptophan that’s blamed for that time-honoured Thanksgiving tradition — that awful after-dinner feeling when someone wants to collapse on a couch or bed with a full stomach and every cell in the body says one word: sleep.
But several medical studies say it’s not just the turkey’s fault. It’s not even tryptophan that deserves all the blame.
Medical experts say that the drowsy feeling is caused by the net amount of all the tryptophan and carbohydrates on your plate – not just the turkey and not just the tryptophan.
But a local doctor who is one of southern Utah’s leading sleep experts is taking the food completely off the hook. dr Kirk Watkins, who directs the Intermountain Sleep Center at St. George Regional Medical Center, said the real turkey in the room is that people just don’t get enough sleep… period.
“The number one reason for sleepiness in America is that we’re getting less and less sleep,” Watkins said. “If you get the right amount of sleep, you don’t need to sleep during the day.”
At the same time, the saying goes: You are what you eat. But according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), what you eat at the Thanksgiving table isn’t as important as how much you eat.
It’s the pinnacle of nutrients on the Thanksgiving plate that provokes the run from table to couch to bed, not just an item. It’s similar to how a cup of water won’t fill a bucket, but many cups of water will do.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the typical amount of turkey eaten on Turkey Day contains 370 milligrams of tryptophan. Studies state that it usually takes 500mg to induce drowsiness. Turkey alone doesn’t reach that number, but tryptophan in the other foods on the plate does add up.
But you don’t just sit down and eat tryptophan on Thanksgiving.
Turkey and other foods are not 100% tryptophan. If a person eats something with them, the other fats, proteins, or amino acids in the diet can dilute their effects, according to the NIH. Tryptophan itself doesn’t actually make you fall asleep, but it is ultimately converted into serotonin and melatonin in the body, which it does. Other nutrients in the diet can slow or hinder this process.
Also, turkey isn’t the tryptophan champion when it comes to other meats that might be on the Thanksgiving menu.
On a protein plate with turkey, ham, beef, chicken and whitefish, turkey ranks middle of the pack for the amount of tryptophan, according to the USDA. This ham has more than twice the tryptophan than turkey.
If anything deserves Turkey’s tryptophan reputation, it’s this pizza guy. The cheese on the typical pizza alone has three times as much tryptophan as turkey.
In addition, one Recent study ultimately says that it’s not a high amount of tryptophan in a meal that causes dozing off after a big meal, but a combination of it with a high amount of carbohydrates. Foods rich in both are ultimately the sleep triggers. On the Thanksgiving plate, it’s the buns, mashed potatoes, and stuffing rather than the turkey. Birds, beef and other meats have almost no carbohydrates worth mentioning.
This process where tryptophan becomes serotonin and melatonin? The study suggests that carbohydrates boost it.
Those who partake in a vegetarian Thanksgiving without turkey, ham, or fish are not off the hook. In fact, they can get more of that sleepy feeling than carnivores.
A popular brand of tofu roast turkey contains more sleep-promoting compounds than regular turkey. A Tofurky roast meal has 268 mg of tryptophan and 16 grams of carbohydrates. A cup of soybeans.
Then there is what to drink with food.
When wine is kosher for Thanksgiving, tryptophan and carbs don’t matter, but a study says Alcohol doesn’t just have other sleep-promoting ingredients known beyond the weird drunks seen in movies, but can also cause less restless sleep and worsen sleep apnea.
Ultimately, Jerry and George’s strategy in a well-known episode of “Seinfeld” to put Jerry’s date to sleep with turkey and wine would work, but it would have worked with just wine and no turkey.
A soda, albeit not a diet, doesn’t contain tryptophan, according to the USDA, but will do a lot to help build the carb bucket.
And while a glass of milk is good for a body, with 195 mg of tryptophan and 23 grams of carbohydrates, that one glass has more sleep inducers than anything else on the plate. Like a serving of turkey, a glass of milk alone won’t bridge the tryptophan and carbohydrate deficits, but everything else on the menu together will.
Speaking of deficits, Watkins of St. George Regional Hospital said that sleep deficits are ultimately the cause of a lack of alertness, whether it’s Thanksgiving or not. And he said that 7.5 hours isn’t necessarily everyone’s magic number when it comes to sleep. It depends on the person.
“I have patients who need as little as 5.5 hours of sleep and they’re doing just fine,” said Watkins, who added that the right sleep balance should ultimately be more on people’s minds when it comes to fatigue than it is on Thanksgiving meal.
“Sleep debt has real consequences,” Watkins said. “The only way to pay it back is to get more sleep.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, All Rights Reserved.