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4 Reasons Why You Get Sleepy After Thanksgiving Dinner (Hint: It’s Not The Turkey)

4 Reasons Why You Get Sleepy After Thanksgiving Dinner (Hint: It’s Not The Turkey)

While turkey is high in tryptophan and yes, tryptophan is a precursor to the famous sleep hormone, melatonin—this delicious meat likely isn’t the reason why you get drowsy after that Thanksgiving meal.1 Turkey actually has lower amounts of tryptophan than salmon or cheddar cheese!1 And there are four, far more likely sources of that post-dinner sleepiness.1


Stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet yams, cranberry sauce—you name a beloved Thanksgiving dish and it’s probably high in carbohydrates. Too many simple carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar, which causes insulin to rush in and swoop it out. You end up with a crash in blood sugar levels and an urge to sleep.1 We’re no strangers to this. Many of us probably look forward to the holiday break from healthy eating. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some of your favorite meals, it’s just something to keep in mind before you blame the turkey.


Turkeys aren’t the only ones getting stuffed on Thanksgiving. Americans love to fill our bellies to the brim for this once-a-year meal. But three things happens when you eat beyond being full, and all of them are known for causing sleepiness: Stretching your small intestine, protein-fat loading your stomach, and blood leaving the brain and muscles to head straight to the gastrointestinal tract.1 Breaking down all that food requires a lot of energy, and because there is so much of it, the body prioritizes breaking down that food over things like, you know, staying awake.


You don’t need a health blog to tell you that alcohol is a depressant, and it makes you sleepy. But just in case you do, here it is: Alcohol makes you sleepy. 


Football games, parades, board games, lounging on the couch. There’s nothing wrong with a little R&R after a big meal but curling up on a warm couch covered in blankets might have a little bit to do with why we’re falling asleep after Thanksgiving dinner too. When you’re not moving, circulation can slow down, and sleep mode can kick in.


If you’re one of the rare people who doesn’t enjoy slipping into a food coma after Thanksgiving dinner, here are a few of the things you can do to help yourself stay awake and alert:

  • Eat and drink in moderation
  • Feast on more veggies
  • Serve up some stretches
  • Go for a walk
  • Play some safe sports outside

Turkey isn’t the main reason we get tired after a giant Thanksgiving dinner. For some of us, the holiday is a much-earned break from work. For others, it’s a time to be around the people we love (even if it’s a smaller group than usual this year). Whichever way you choose to spend the holiday, most of us can agree that savoring delicious foods and then falling asleep on the couch isn’t the worst way to spend a day. 

This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.


  1. Great Valley Publishing. “Talking Turkey.” 2020. Today’s Dietitian. Accessed on: November 20, 2020.

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