I can almost smell the scents of Thanksgiving in the air! Can you believe Thanksgiving is almost upon us? As you might guess, Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays. What’s not to like? You get to eat all sorts of yummy food, spend time with friends and family, and take time to reflect on the blessings in your life! To me, that sounds like the perfect combination. Of course, the Thanksgiving feast holds a special place in my heart (even though doughnuts are not usually considered part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal).
If you are like many other people, the Thanksgiving meal may cause you to want to curl up and take a nap. This drowsiness after feasting on turkey is often blamed on tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey and many other meats. I had to get a little refresher on amino acids from my friends at the Equine Science Center. I was told amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are necessary for life. It turns out tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Essential amino acids are those which our bodies cannot synthesize or synthesize in sufficient quantity and thus, need to be supplied in the diet. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid for many species including horses and humans. This amino acid can be used for many different things in the body. The reason tryptophan is associated with drowsiness and sleep is because it is a precursor for serotonin. Basically, this means tryptophan is used to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter and hormone found in the body. Serotonin concentrations fluctuate over the day and help your body know when you should sleep and wake. Serotonin is also closely related to melatonin, another neurotransmitter and hormone responsible for helping you sleep. Most people think the tryptophan you consume as a part of your Thanksgiving meal is what causes you to feel sleepy. It turns out, though, that you are unlikely to consume enough tryptophan to put you to sleep for the afternoon or evening.
It’s more likely a combination of factors is at work in sending you into your nap. Other factors would include the increased blood flow to your gut as it works to digest all that yummy food you just ate. This will decrease blood flow to other areas of the body such as the brain and might also make you drowsy. That head nod can also be attributed to your relaxed state at Thanksgiving. Your body is likely to be in a state of relaxation as it works on digesting your meal and would allow you to fall asleep more easily.
All this talk of food and sleep has made me want a little snack and a snooze in the sunshine. I really want to sneak a little taste from someone’s Thanksgiving preparations. Do you think I could grab a quick bite of turkey to help put me to sleep? Turns out horses can actually eat very small amounts of turkey without getting sick. While this shouldn’t be a regular part of your horse’s diet, a small mouthful now and then shouldn’t harm it.
As you enjoy your time with friends and family this Thanksgiving season, I hope you remember what you learned about tryptophan when your eyes start to droop. May you take the time to give thanks for the blessings in your life this Thanksgiving!